24th Sep 2023

EU takes landmark stance against illegal timber

  • Between 20 percent and 40 percent of the world's wood production is thought to come from illegal sources (Photo: Wagner T. Cassimiro "Aranha")

Europe has gone from years of preaching against the evils of illegally harvested timber to coming just a few steps away from banning the trade in the world's biggest market for the product in a landmark move by EU institutions.

In a deal struck on Wednesday (16 June) between the European Parliament, the EU member states and the European Commission after almost a decade of campaigning on the issue by environmentalists, the sale of illegal timber will be banned in the EU from 2012.

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Raw timber and products manufactured from wood such as furniture and floors are covered by the new legislation, with firms now required to perform due diligence and carry out risk assessments of wood products where illegal practices are suspected.

In a key move that goes beyond leaving the burden at the level of due diligence, as member states had initially preferred, companies will have to trace such products and raw timber all the way back to the country and place where the wood was originally harvested.

Most member states in the end backed the bill, with Sweden and Portugal - both major manufacturers of forestry products - mounting the stiffest opposition.

The bill also strengthens bilateral agreements with tropical countries through an EU programme to stop the entry of illegal timber into Europe.

The law must still be officially endorsed by the member states and a full sitting of the parliament.

"If this law is passed, illegal timber will be banned from Europe. The world's largest market is about to shut its gates to companies profiting from illegal trafficking and forest destruction," said, Sebastien Risso, a forests campaigner with Greenpeace.

"The black market for wood products is often run by criminals fuelling conflict, robbing governments of revenue and causing irreversible environmental destruction."

Campaigners did not win everything they had been seeking, however. Green groups lamented that no EU-wide sanction regime was imposed for flouting the law and printed materials including books are exempt for another five years.

Between 20 and 40 percent of global industrial wood production is thought to come from illegal sources, with up to 20 percent of this ending up on EU markets - worth some €1.2 billion.

"For years the EU has preached against illegal timber, a major driver of deforestation worldwide, but has hypocritically continued to provide one of the biggest markets for it," said Finnish Green MEP Satu Hassi, the lead deputy on the regulation, who added that she was "delighted" at the new rules.

"With deforestation accounting for nearly a fifth of the global total emissions causing climate change, tackling illegal logging as one of its drivers is an important step in the right direction."

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