Nowadays “good wood” does not just mean timber that is “fit for purpose” but also legal and, preferably, sustainable timber. The UK industry has made great strides getting certified timber products into the supply chain but there are still countries where even legality cannot be assumed, never mind sustainability. Making sure that timber is from known, legal sources is an essential part of any effort to manage forests sustainably. This article describes how the EU Timber Trade Action Plan (TTAP) will help in this first step and how traders can get involved.
If you believe WWF‘s inflated figures for UK trade in illegal timber you might stop buying timber altogether. Rupert Oliver’s reasoned rebuttal brings down those estimates but WWF, and the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, do have a point; illegal logging is still a significant problem in many parts of the world, and trading in this timber brings our industry into disrepute.
Thus illegal logging is TTF‘s problem too and in 2003 we drew up a strategy to help source legal timber into the UK that was approved by the governing board. TTAP is an important part of this strategy and, moreover, is tangible evidence of our policy to engage with suppliers rather than boycott them.
There are four main business reasons why sourcing legal timber makes sense:

  • markets are changing, driven by ethical procurement policies such as the UK government’s timber procurement policy: there is new evidence of increased willingness to pay premiums for verified legal timber;
  • legislation controlling the timber trade is coming (for example, the EU Illegal Logging regulation approved in October 2005) and the trade needs to be able to demonstrate practical and cost-effective private sector solutions;
  • important stakeholders such as government and NGOs are watching the UK timber trade to see if we deliver on our commitments – and we need their support if we are to grow the market for timber;
  • illegal timber undermines our environmental credentials and hands competitive advantage to alternative building materials such as concrete, plastic and steel.

TTAP will help suppliers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Cameroon, Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville get verified legal timber for the EU market. This €3.5m grant was awarded to a consortium of EU timber trade organisations (British, Dutch, Belgium), the European Hardwood Federation (UCBC), the European Timber Trade Federation (FEBO), the French Timber Trade Federation (LCB), Malaysian Timber Council and the University of Mulawarman in Indonesia. It is managed on our behalf by the Tropical Forest Trust Рa business-to-business NGO with a strong track record helping industry get legal and sustainable timber. The bottom line is that TTAP will help up to 35 suppliers provide verified legal timber with full chain of custody.
At the invitation of European companies and their producer country suppliers TTAP field staff will:

  • identify weaknesses in the supply chain where illegal timber might enter and draw up action plans to strengthen those weak links. TTAP will carry out around 350 of these “GAP Assessments” over five years;
  • for 35 selected supply chains TTAP will provide training and financial support to help companies install timber tracking systems to trace wood from the forest through to their processing factories.

To participate in the scheme a UK trader must be a member of the TTF, sign up to its Responsible Purchasing Policy and to the TTAP Communication Protocol, and it must provide co-financing to the TTF, through suppliers if appropriate.
The EU grant is substantial but it does require some co-financing from the beneficiary (the private sector). This means that for every €100 spent by the project on helping suppliers, approximately €28 must come from suppliers or their traders. TTAP has this flexible pricing policy because costs vary considerably from country to country and company to company. .

<b>Latin America and China</b>
The same trade consortium, augmented by Spain, submitted another proposal for €3.5m to the European Commission in November 2005 (TTAP 2). If successful, we will be able to support suppliers in all the main tropical producer countries and China by the end of 2006.
It is a shame some MPs are not more encouraging of this ground-breaking industry work!