EUTR remains important post-Brexit

23 August 2017

The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) wasn’t universally welcomed when introduced in 2013. Some in the trade saw it as unwarranted interference, a replication of the due diligence they already undertook to keep illegal wood out of their supply chains. The only difference, they said, was that it now came wrapped in Brussels red tape.

Similarly that mouthful of an initiative, the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement or FLEGT VPA. Critics said it was too complex and took too long to reach its goal of establishing watertight national timber legality assurance systems in supplier countries. A decade plus after the first country started VPA talks, only Indonesia, had fully implemented one, authorizing its trade to issue FLEGT licences on exports to the EU and so secure access to the market without further EUTR due diligence.

Four a half years on though, according to importers, agents and distributors quizzed for this edition’s hardwood report (p14), criticism of the EUTR may not have entirely evaporated, but perceptions have altered. Most say it’s become part of the furniture and effectively embedded into their administrative systems. Some feel it’s also helped due diligence management, notably in securing clearer documentation from suppliers. In fact, the most common adverse comment today is that it’s not enforced strictly or uniformly enough across the EU .

Concerns are also still voiced about the FLEGT VPA initiative. More countries, it is felt, need to get to FLEGT licensing stage soon to increase the variety and availability of licensed products and consequently build market profile and momentum. It’s important too, traders say, to draw other key supplier states into the VPA fold. But it is also hoped that Indonesia’s implementation of its VPA last year will spur others to complete theirs and increase international awareness of the initiative and its benefits, both commercially and on the ground in signatory countries in terms of forest governance, timber trade transparency and stakeholder engagement.

Other countries are making progress through the VPA process, including Vietnam, which concluded negotiations this year. Still more are keen to join too, such as Myanmar. Admittedly it has just come in for NGO criticism for allegedly backtracking on forestry reform. But the prospect of a VPA has been described as ‘key for keeping it at the reform discussions table’.

So, while it may continue highlighting room for improvement, the UK trade consensus seems to be that neither the EUTR or FLEGT VPA initiative should be replaced or downgraded as part of Brexit. It would cause unnecessary administrative upheaval and put a potential barrier in the way of trade with or via other European businesses. Perhaps most importantly, at a time when their potential for positive impact looks set to grow, it would, in the words of one importer, send out ‘totally the wrong signal’ on the UK’s commitment to combatting the illegal timber trade.