The UK’s multi-agency FLEGT licence enforcement and monitoring partnership is confident it will be ready for the first licensed timber if it arrives here, as expected, some time this year. It also predicts it could be processing thousands of licences per month soon after receipt of the initial cargoes.

The partnership is headed by environment department Defra (the UK’s appointed Competent Authority (CA) for the FLEGT licensing initiative). In addition it comprises EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) CA, the National Measurement and Regulation Office (NMRO), which will ensure authenticity of licences submitted by importers, plus HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) which will undertake further checks and authorise release of timber to market. The Border Force command will be the policing arm, looking at compliance at the time of import.

Given the nature of the licence processing task, Defra head of EU and International Forestry Sally Viner said it ‘made sense to take a collaborative approach’, adding that personnel at the various agencies now meet regularly to discuss latest developments in the FLEGT licensing field.

An electronic UK FLEGT licensing processing system has also been developed and is close to completion. Importers will key in details of FLEGT licences, which the NMRO will then validate or ‘flag’ if there is an issue and, if necessary, follow up with the importer. HMRC will also use the system in its respective role.

In addition, the EU is also developing a wider FLEGT licensing IT system. UK importers, added Ms Viner, would be charged £31 per licensed shipment to be validated and processed.

“This is purely to cover costs of the UK agencies involved,” she said. “And it will be subject to review as we process the first licences, in case it’s too little, or too much.” It’s currently envisaged that Border Force will investigate licensed timber and wood product consignments in response to prompts from NMRO or HMRC, or following intelligence from the trade or other sources. There may also be spot checks.

Ms Viner added that fines for breaches of FLEGT licensing requirements could be ‘significant’ .

Defra and its partner agencies have liaised with the UK Timber Trade Federation on the FLEGT licence processing structure and now plan communication of ‘key issues’ direct to the wider industry.

They are also in contact with other EU counterparts via regular “FLEGT expert” meetings in Brussels, plus unilateral exchange with individual countries agencies and authorities.

UK authorities are also in regular contact with ‘relevant bodies’ in Indonesia to gauge what’s happening on the ground at the producer end of the supply chain and discuss the ‘readiness and roll-out’ of new legality assurance and other associated systems.

“We may also give them access to our IT system so licence information can be uploaded at source,” said Ms Viner.

Previous deadlines for the launch of FLEGT licences have been missed, but Ms Viner said Indonesia has made significant progress in recent months and the vast majority of its timber sector is now covered by its FLEGT VPA legality assurance system.

“The activity our end in terms of getting the electronic system in place and industry communications is aimed at the UK being ready for when licensing starts,” she said. Defra also believes the UK could be among the lead destinations for the first FLEGTlicenced shipments

“Following HMRC’s assessment by product code of UK Indonesian timber imports needing FLEGT licences, we think we could be handling tens of thousands of licences within the first year,” said Ms Viner