Maybe I’m naïve. But honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever met a UK timber trader who wants to tear down the rainforest, wreck the environment for their children or grind the faces of the poor in tropical countries in the mire, which will be all that’s left after they’ve torn down the trees.

So, needless to say, I think that MP Barry Gardiner was pretty wide of the mark when he implied that trade criticisms of the government’s new policy on sustainable timber procurement were driven by their own self interest rather than any concern for the ability of poorer producer countries to satisfy the policy.

Mr Gardiner was addressing the latest Chatham House conference on illegal logging. The Timber Trade Federation‘s head of environment Andy Roby had just commented that certain timber producer countries might not have the resources to meet the latest ruling; that by 2009, to secure UK government contracts, they must either have third party audited certification of legality and sustainability, or be signed up to the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade initiative. In fairly forthright terms, Mr Gardiner implied that those objecting to government policy were doing so for their own reasons, and were using the argument about overseas suppliers only as leverage.

Of course, not everyone in the trade is opposed to the government’s new procurement strategy. Some feel timber suppliers need a tight deadline to get them to focus on improving forest management and achieve certification. But it’s clearly unfair to impugn the motives of those who do cast doubt on the wisdom of the policy.

The UK trade, via the TTF and independent initiatives, has already devoted considerable resources to helping overseas suppliers improve forest management and environmental sourcing strategies and plans to expend more. The genuine fear of many is that, in moving the procurement goal posts, the government now risks undermining progress in this area. Rather than spurring suppliers to improve their eco performance more rapidly, it risks them giving up on the UK and turning to far less environmentally discerning markets.