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22nd Feb 2024

EU imposes rules on six products to halt 'imported deforestation'

  • Palm oil plantation in Indonesia. The list comprises soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee - but can be expanded in the future (Photo: CIFOR)
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The European Commission proposed on Wednesday (17 November) a landmark piece of legislation to reduce and reverse the impact of European consumption on global deforestation - including fines and penalties for those companies found in breach of their obligations.

The proposal comes after more than 100 countries pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 at this month's UN climate negotiations in Glasgow (COP26).

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"To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crises we must take the responsibility to act at home as well as abroad," said EU commissioner for the Green Deal Frans Timmermans.

Under the new rules, companies selling soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee in the EU will have to ensure that their production processes are not contributing to deforestation.

Companies will be required to collect the geographic coordinates of the farm or planning area where the commodities are produced to allow traceability by national authorities in EU member states via satellite images.

They will also have to submit a statement to confirm that they have successfully complied with mandatory due diligence rules – although this is not conditional to place products in EU markets.

Rules will be simplified for companies sourcing from countries considered "low risk," and enhanced for higher risks areas. The assessment of countries will be made by the EU Commission and be publicly available.

'Deforestation-free' goods

The use of geolocation data and satellite imagery will help authorities to ensure that no commodities are allowed to enter the EU market if they are produced in land subject to deforestation or forest degradation after 31 December 2020 – the cut-off date defining a "deforestation-free" good.

The proposed date corresponds to commitments made by the international community to halt deforestation like those included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the EU commission said.

However, it is far less ambitious than the cut-off date proposed by the European Parliament in their own-initiative report. They argued that "the cut-off date must be set in the past, but no later than 2015".

Beyond soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee, new requirements will also apply to companies selling derived products, such as leather, chocolate and furniture – although, according to the EU commission, the list of products can be expanded in the future.

Narrow scope?

But Green MEPs and environmental NGOs considered the proposal insufficient at excluding products that have a proven negative impact on the world's forests, like meat other than beef, rubber or maize.

This is especially the case for rubber, considered a significant source of deforestation and human rights abuses, with devastating impact on forests and communities in southeast Asia and Africa.

However, according to the impact assessment leaked in September, including rubber or maize in the scope would have required "a very large effort, with little return in terms of curbing deforestation driven by EU consumption".

The draft proposal has also been slammed for applying a narrow definition of forests, leaving savannas like the Cerrado, wetlands like the Pantanal and other ecosystems out of the legal scope.

But the EU officials told reporters in Brussels that the legislation will cover four billion hectares, representing one third of the earth's surface – including areas considered to be 'non-forests'.

Greenpeace, for their part, has argued that the proposal fails to address the impact of the EU banking sector on deforestation.

The world has lost around 420 million hectares of forest since 1990, mainly in Africa and South America, due to the expansion of agriculture activities dedicated to products such as soy, palm oil or cocoa.

And the EU is among the world's largest importers of tropical deforestation, being responsible for about 7 to 10 percent of it associated with international trade.

But this new law is considered an unprecedented move to address both legal and illegal deforestation in producing countries.

"The EU is sending a clear message to major supermarkets and retailers: one of the largest economies in the world simply won't accept agricultural products linked to deforestation," said Nico Muzi from NGO Mighty Earth.

The draft legislation would have to be approved by both EU countries and MEPs.

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