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8th Aug 2022

Last-minute calls to delay EU deforestation law

  • New rules would target companies selling soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee in the EU (Photo: CodiePie)
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After decades of voluntary measures that failed to halt deforestation, the EU is pioneering new regulation in a bid to reduce its role in the destruction of forests.

The regulation would force companies selling soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee in the EU to ensure and prove that their production processes are deforestation-free.

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More than 100 environmental and other organisations have called on EU governments and the European Parliament to improve the commission proposal. The French presidency of the EU council aims to reach a common position in June.

But some EU member states want to extend further a two-year transitional period to implement the new due-diligence obligations, while others say they are concerned about the administrative burden that small and medium companies will face.

On Monday (21 February), Latvia said national authorities would need as many as six years to adapt.

Ireland was among countries that called for more time for small and medium operators, arguing that "awareness-raising campaigns" were necessary first.

That was not the position of most EU capitals, however.

Dutch agriculture minister Henk Staghouwer said the legislation should be adopted swiftly as "the agricultural sector is the main driver of deforestation worldwide".

And Spain and Denmark were open to the possibility of including other deforestation-intensive products like rubber or maize, under the list of commodities subject to the new rules. That is likely to please environmental groups, which have long called for the inclusion of such products.

Even so, other countries took issue with other parts of the rulebook.

Finland's agriculture minister, Jari Leppä, raised concerns about a cut-off date, set by the new regulation, that would ban imports of the six commodities if their production is linked to deforestation or forest degradation after 31 December 2020.

Under the new rules, no commodities would be allowed to enter the EU market if they are produced on lands subject to deforestation or forest degradation after that date.

But Leppä called for a delay to ensure that operators are not penalised over rules he says they could not have reasonably anticipated two years ago.

Other ministers also pointed out that establishing a common traceability system will be both complex and costly. But a risk-assessment had shown no big increases in costs, said EU commissioner for environment Virginijus Sinkevičius.

The EU is among the world's largest importers of tropical deforestation as a result of international trade.

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