• The WWF and the European Timber Trade Association support proposed EU legislation to ensure timber traders implement ‘due diligence’ to avoid importing illegal wood.
• The UK wants a complete prohibition on handling illegal wood in the EU.
• From April 1, social criteria will be included in the UK government’s timber procurement policy.
• Only 11 countries have public procurement policies.
• Ghana’s VPA was ratified by the EU in November.
• The global economic crisis has slowed VPA progress.

In the eight years that Chatham House has hosted the illegal logging updates there has been a huge shift in the relationship between the timber trade and the environmental NGOs. It started as almost open animosity, then moved through a transition stage which saw the introduction of government procurement with timber certification. Today it has moved on another level to a position where the WWF and the European Timber Trade Association (ETTA) shared a platform – and virtually the same script – agreeing a mutual position on proposed EU legislation to ensure that timber traders exercise ‘due diligence’ to reduce the risk of importing illegal wood.

Hilary Benn, secretary of state for environment, food & rural affairs, opened proceedings by acknowledging the effect these updates have had, allowing people from across the world to seek ways of tackling illegal logging.

“We make good progress by working together on this,” he said, going on to praise the UK timber industry. “In the UK, certified wood accounted for over 80% of imports in 2008 – up from 56% in 2005 – a huge increase.”


However, while the introduction of EU due diligence legislation has been agreed, Mr Benn believes it doesn’t go far enough and that prohibition is the way forwards.

“The due diligence regulation we currently have before us isn’t enough…because, as it is currently framed, it does not stop illegal timber from entering our markets,” he said. “It will leave the door open to the supply of illegal timber in Europe, when we need to – and we can – actually slam the door shut forever.”

Citing the US Lacey Act as a “good model”, Mr Benn said the UK needed “a clear and outright prohibition on illegal timber coming onto the market of the EU and we must place that responsibility on the first person who sticks it on the market. We must send a clear message to the world that our community is not the market for it, that our citizens don’t want it and our timber industries won’t stand for it”.

Due diligence legislation

The European Council, WWF and ETTA shared a session to outline their position on the latest due diligence legislation. This shed some light on how, during negotiations between member states, there was concern about the effect on countries with large forest areas, and attempts to make legislation apply at every level of the supply chain, not just at the point of entry into the EU, were also opposed.

There was almost total agreement between ETTA and WWF on all points, especially with regard to areas where forthcoming legislation will probably be loose. The concerns centred on EU countries with lax border controls and the need for it to become a criminal offence, as Hilary Benn recommends, to give this legislation any real chance of working.

WWF was also concerned over timber trade associations acting as monitoring organisations, because it felt they might not enforce legislation on their members. This was rebuffed strongly by ETTA’s spokesperson, who made it clear that, given the efforts of trade federations and their members to date, they would do their utmost to deter illegal logging.

Concern was also raised by countries exporting timber products with a high added-value content – timber frame housing units for example – because they will have to ensure the due diligence aspects are assured, whereas EU manufacturers will avoid this potentially costly administration, as the importers of the timber componentry will be responsible.

Public procurement policies

The update also covered Case studies on public procurement policies (PPPs), notably in Brazil, where effective, low-cost strategies were presented. In the EU, only six member states have PPPs and five others are developing policies. The aim is to create a harmonised EU standard. Meanwhile, across the world, only 11 countries have a PPP, illustrating how the UK is a world leader in this field.

The social element within PPPs has become increasingly important and, with more timber products sourced through certification schemes such as FSC and PEFC, the drive to improve their social elements has continued.

Mr Benn also used the event to announce that from April 1, in addition to the existing legal and sustainability requirements, the UK government’s timber procurement policy would include social criteria as contract conditions.

“We will look at tenure and use rights, at the means of resolving grievances and disputes and safeguarding the basic labour, health and safety rights of forest workers as an integral part of our definition of what is sustainable.”

CPET view

The UK government’s advisory body, the Central Point for Expertise on Timber (CPET), explained that, because most timber procured by the government is classed as Category A material, and verified by the principal certification schemes, the latest decision should be easily met as the FSC and PEFC schemes already comply. Difficulties will continue to arise on Category B timber, where verification is more difficult and complex.

Progress is also slow on Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs), set up by the EU with supplier countries to help them introduce sustainable forest management practices, so this whole issue seems likely to remain a hot potato for the trade.

Ghana’s VPA was ratified by the EU in November, and Congo and Cameroon will follow. Other countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Liberia, Central African Republic and Gabon, are working towards ratification. Considering that this process started in 2003, progress has been painfully slow, and hasn’t been helped by the global economic crisis.