Illegally Logged Timber 

Stopping illegal timbering is part of the international fight against the destruction of forests, a major cause of global warming. Illegal logging contributes massively to global deforestation, which is responsible for 20% of global greenhouse gasses emissions. Fighting illegal timbering is therefore part of the EU strategy to fight climate change.  Illegal logging also hurts the competitiveness of Europe’s forest industry sector.

A Second Attempt at Getting it Right

The EU adopted a Regulation in 2005 meant to ensure that only legally harvested and certified timber can be imported.  One of the cornerstones of the FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Regulation was Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with producer countries. VPAs are legally binding bilateral agreements between the EU and timber exporting countries. Both parties commit to putting in place a scheme designed to guarantee that only licensed products from these partner countries will enter the EU.

FLEGT failed to combat trade in illegally logged timber in the EU for the following reasons:

•     It took too long to implement a FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement

•     Companies found ways around applying VPA rules

•     Some countries simply chose not to enter into a VPA

For these reasons, the Commission proposed new legislation last year to more effectively combat the import of illegally logged timber. The proposal is for a Regulation laying Down Obligations for Operators Placing Timber and Timber Products on the Market.

The Due Diligence Approach

The new proposal is based on what the Commission calls the principle of “due diligence”.  According to the Commission, “due diligence” as used in the proposal means “demonstrating sufficient care in ensuring that only legally harvested timber is used”. In the Commission’s proposal, “due diligence is not only a moral duty but a legal requirement for proactive behaviour”. Under this principle, traders must “ascertain to their best ability” that the timber they import in EU is legally harvested.  This approach does not technically prohibit the placing on the market of illegally harvest timber but obliges firms importing timber into the EU to carry out a detailed check to ensure that wood has been legally harvested under the laws of the exporting country.

“Due diligence” will be achieved through the adoption of what the Commission calls a “due diligence system”. This system is a framework of procedures and measures designed to ensure that traders properly track timber and timber products, have access to information concerning compliance with legislation and manage the risk of placing illegally harvested timber and timber products on EU market.

The Due diligence system includes the following requirements:  

•     Providing information on timber introduced on the EU market regarding description; country of harvest; volume and/or weight; name and address of the operator who has supplied timber or timber products (where applicable) and information on compliance with the legislative requirements

•     Inclusion of a risk management procedure

•     Inclusion of audits to ensure the effective application of the due diligence system

Whom Will the Law Apply To?

•     Operators (those placing timber or timber products on the market) are obliged to use due diligence as defined by the Commission in order to minimise the risk of placing illegal timber on the market. Traders who apply a due diligence system can develop their own system or rely on a recognised one, for example, one drawn up by national authorities. Timber from FLEGT licences will be considered to have been legally harvested.

•     Competent national authorities have the role of recognising the monitoring organisations. They have three months from the moment they receive an application to decide whether to grant recognition or not. They must also check if monitoring organisations comply with legal requirements and send their results to the Commission. They can also establish recognised due diligence systems.

•     Member States will be responsible for establishing sanctions for non-compliance with the Regulation. Member States are encouraged to co-operate with third country suppliers to ensure that illegal logging is prevented.

•     Monitoring organisations will certify that operators are using due diligence systems, and will take appropriate disciplinary action – established by Member States - if there is a failure to comply. Monitoring organisations must submit to the competent national authority the names of operators it plans to certify and a detailed description of its due diligence system in order to be recognised.

•     The Commission retains the right to withdraw recognition of monitoring organisations if it thinks that adequate standards are not being met.

The proposal will not apply until two years after its entry into force in order to give operators and competent authorities time to prepare. The Commission will make further amendments on assessing the risk of illegally harvest timber through comitology procedure. The comitology procedure gives the Commission the power to adopt legislation that alters the technical or otherwise non-essential details of a piece of legislation.