Proposals to combat illegal timber imports

A consultation paper setting out various options to minimise illegal timber imports into the EU was issued by the European Commission on 22 December.1

Under a Regulation adopted in 2005 (ENDS Report 370, pp 50-51 ), the Commission is negotiating a series of bilateral voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs) with various countries, as proposed in its action plan for forest law enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT), to ensure that only legally harvested timber is imported from them. But it accepts that the agreements will not address illegal imports from countries choosing not to negotiate such agreements.

The consultation considers voluntary measures and new legislation.

One option would be to "vigorously pursue" the system of bilateral voluntary agreements. But some countries may not wish to sign such agreements, and illegally harvested timber could be shipped from a VPA country to a non-VPA country and avoid legality licensing.

Another option would be private sector voluntary schemes, but some do not have compliance mechanisms built in and reporting and third-party scrutiny requirements vary.

Alternatively the EU could legislate either to require only legally harvested timber to be placed on the EU market, or to ban the trading and possession of timber harvested in breach of the laws of the country of origin.

The consultation paper appears to lean slightly towards the former, saying it would solve the problems of having to establish a physical link between the timber placed on the market and its origin, and establishing whether the timber was legally harvested.

Worryingly for environmental groups, the paper says it could also be "implemented with differing degrees of stringency with respect to the traceability and evidence of legality". Operators could be required to provide such evidence on a systematic basis or "only if challenged".

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