The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) was put in place to address illegal logging: laid down as a Regulation it is not written sequentially; it is not immediately obvious how it should work!

When it was mooted, there were all sorts of mutterings around Canada that it would hinder Canadian timber coming into the EU. It now seems that they were right as the sad reality is that it has, whereas it should be doing just the opposite!

But it is not the EUTR per se that is the problem – it is the ‘operators’, or rather some of the operators who are. They have failed completely to understand ‘due diligence’ and are, as a consequence, treating all their suppliers, regardless of country of harvest, in exactly the same way and in some cases equally incorrectly.

This is my ‘Operator 8-Point Plan’ to resolve that sorry state of affairs.

  • Notwithstanding the EUTR requirement for information gathering, in the first instance the operator does not have to determine that wood was legally harvested – the operator, first of all, has to determine level of risk for their source of supply.
  • Once ‘negligible risk’ is ascertained, the operator’s due diligence obligations are fundamentally different.
  • Operators practising appropriate due diligence can easily ascertain that Canada is a negligible risk country under the conditions as outlined in the EUTR.
  • When negligible risk is ascertained at country level, the operator does not need to obtain documents from the supplier indicating compliance with applicable legislation. For wood harvested in Canada, compliance is embedded in the provincial legislation, which the operator has access to (and for appropriate due diligence has only to indicate that access) via various Canadian web portals.
  • Operators demanding from suppliers details of harvesting plans, region of harvest, concession of harvest and signed affidavits/contracts (and even worse, demanding the supply of those prior to each shipment!) attesting to the legality of harvest of wood being imported, without first paying any heed to the requirement for assessment of risk (see point 1), are not carrying out appropriate due diligence, thus demonstrating their inappropriate application of the EUTR.
  • Operators are adding enormous complexity and unnecessary burden both for themselves and their Canadian suppliers – by failing to grasp point 1.
  • The EUTR was put in place to address illegal logging, most particularly in tropical countries, first of all by assessment of risk.
  • Competent Authorities (CA) are aware of illegal logging ‘hot-spots’ and will be alert to suspect trading activities but their primary function is the monitoring of operators and their due diligence systems. CAs will be paying little heed to wood and products of wood harvested in Canada and the US (for those Canadian companies drawing on raw material harvested in the US) but they will be paying heed to inappropriate application of the EUTR by operators!

Another looming barrier to trade is the revision to EN 14081-1, the harmonised standard for strength-graded timber. In the revised draft standard, the CEN committee seems to have indicated that only ‘DG’ will be acceptable in grade marks to identify timber appropriately fully graded after it has been dried. Currently ‘KD’ is acceptable as an alternative (the currently applied ‘CE’ grade stamp incorporating ‘KD’ fulfils both North American and EU marking requirements), but that option may be written out. Canada cannot use ‘DG’ in grade stamps; neither the US nor Canada will accept ‘DG’ and a change of stamps solely for lumber to be shipped to the EU is effectively impossible.

If the revised version is published as it stands, Canadian strength-graded timber will be excluded from the EU.