We have now reached the second anniversary of the implementation of the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) and it is an appropriate time to ask whether it has achieved what it set out to or just imposed a further burden on the Operator first placing goods on the European market.

The EU is currently carrying out a public consultation and review. Some of the questions asked are straight forward, such as whether the scope is wide enough. Clearly it is not, as 59% by value of timber and timber products are not covered: neither is printed material. CITES appendix III species should also be included, as these have no verification of legality.

A harder question asked by the review is whether the regulation is implemented uniformly by member states. Our dealings with EU suppliers are as a Trader, so the due diligence obligation falls on them, but the work James Latham undertakes to protect its reputation shows that the competent authorities in different member states have very different requirements, with some seeming to accept little more than a paper exercise!

The important question is whether the EUTR has stopped illegally harvested timber entering the EU supply chain. It has certainly strengthened Operators’ ability to obtain more information from the supply chain and implement the TTF Responsible Purchasing Policy, but this needs to be more than just a paper exercise in high-risk areas where third party verification is still the best solution.

Complicated supply chains, with logs sourced from different areas, are difficult for Operators to assess and competent authorities to audit. This is highlighted in a recent report on Chinese plywood prepared for the UK competent authority, the National Measurement Office, which has just been released. This shows that for the limited number of Operators contacted, representing about 10% of the UK imports, 14 of the 16 did not operate a sufficient due diligence system and, of the 13 products tested, nine did not match the declaration regarding specie. This follows on from a check by the NMO on a vessel of Chinese plywood carried out in March 2013, so one might argue that it has taken a long time for the regulation to show any teeth!

So, has the EUTR had a beneficial effect? I think that it has. Contrary to fears that the emphasis would shift from sustainability to legality, the regulation has expanded the market for products certified by FSC and PEFC. Although these schemes are not exempt from the regulation, certification is the easiest way for operations to carry out due diligence.

Finally, has enforcement gone far enough to remove the possibility of illegal timber? The answer has to be ‘no’ because more resources need be devoted to enforcement throughout the EU and more work done on complicated supply chains. But it is a good start