The Timber Trade Federation is hopeful that the government will “fine-tune” its proposed tougher timber procurement policy and continue to accept material from individual suppliers overseas backed by proof of legality.

Under the revised policy, from April 2009 government construction projects will only specify timber that is “certified legal and sustainable” or supplied from countries which are signatories to voluntary partnership agreements (VPA) under the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative.

Defra has launched a consultation period on the policy proposals and the TTF has urged amending them so businesses in non-FLEGT partner countries can still supply UK government projects, provided they have “FLEGT-equivalent” proof of legality.

“A number of countries supplying the UK currently, including Brazil, have no interest in signing up to FLEGT, while others will take time because it’s a drawn-out government to government negotiation process,” said TTF head of environment and corporate social responsibility Andy Roby. “When the new UK policy was announced, it was presented as raising the bar in procurement criteria. What it actually does is limit definitions and restrict forms of evidence for what is legal.

“It shuts out a range of individual suppliers. We are particularly concerned for small forest owners in low risk countries such as the US, and producers in tropical countries not in the FLEGT VPA process for whom certification is not an option. We’ve suggested they’re allowed to provide independently audited verification of legality of equivalent standard to the FLEGT process.”

Mr Roby added that the government is also coming under pressure to rethink its policy from other EU countries which are concerned the UK is stepping out of line with them on timber procurement.

“Encouragingly, the signals we’re getting from Defra is that there is room for manoeuvre,” he said.

A CPET consultation on the new government procurement policy took place at the TTF in London last Thursday.