Bringing china on board the illegal trade battle

29 July 2019

An EU-Chinese forum holds huge promise for the global battle against illegal timber, writes TTJ consultant editor Mike Jeffree

There’s a jaundiced view on emissions reduction. While European countries are outdoing each other to curb them, so it goes, others are churning out CO2 like there’s no tomorrow.

China is usually the name in the frame. It may have put the brakes on its own massive coal-fi red power station construction programme. Apparently, though, it’s now building them elsewhere in Asia, including India.

There’s a similar take on timber legality assurance. Europe may be investing hugely in EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) enforcement, the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative and its associated Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with supplier countries.

But other consumers, so the critics say, are sucking up tropical timber no questions asked. China, once more, is the frequent target of such imputations.

This, however, is not the whole picture. The EU and China have been engaged now for 10 years on timber legality verifi cation issues.

In 2009, the two signed the Bilateral Co-ordination Mechanism (BCM); a forum for exchange on key topics including FLEGT, VPAs and the EUTR, implemented by the European Forest Institute (EFI) and the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF).

Perhaps the ultimate aim from the EU perspective is development of timber legality legislation in China. This has been a slow burn, understandably.

China wants and needs any such system to suit its industrial and legal environment and it has hundreds of thousands of timber businesses to take into account. It’s a complex challenge.

But progress is being made. Some individual Chinese trade bodies have adopted voluntary legality verifi cation codes of conduct, which are seen as templates for operation of the China Timber Legality Verifi cation System (CLTVS).

Chinese businesses have also invested heavily in timber and forestry operations abroad, notably, but not exclusively, in Africa.

With support from the BCM and the complementary UK-China collaboration on International Forest Investment and Trade initiative (InFIT), guidelines have been produced for investors on legal and sustainable timber supply and silviculture.

The BCM is also important from the perspective of FLEGT VPAs.

China is a bigger timber trader with many VPAengaged countries than the EU and so key to its successful operation.

With one eye, no doubt, on its own timber products trade with the EU, however, it has it has engaged with VPAs to understand how they work and strengthen cooperation.

The BCM has also played a role in talks between China, the EU and Indonesia on Chinese recognition of the latter’s FLEGT licences as proof of legality.

Achieving its goals, notably introduction of the CLTVS, may be a long haul, but it is agreed by both sides as worth the effort.

The impact of bringing China more fully on board with the international effort against the illegal timber trade and the environmental degradation it causes would be immense.

TTJ consultant editor Mike Jeffree