Tuesday, 28 October 2008

EU Moves To Crack Down On Illegal Logging Trade

EU Moves To Crack Down On Illegal Logging Trade

LUXEMBOURG : October 28, 2008

LUXEMBOURG - EU farm ministers on Monday broadly welcomed plans to crack down on the lucrative illegal timber trade by making exporters obtain licences to prove their wood does not come from endangered rainforests.

Ministers will negotiate the proposals in detail over the next few months, after a discussion in which some voiced concern over the plan's costs for business and others said the scheme was long overdue.

The proposals, drafted by the EU's executive Commission, would oblige importers to check the legality of the timber products, to prevent shipments of wood that had been illegally harvested. It would also apply to domestically produced timber.

The European Union is an important market for both legally and illegally harvested timber -- it is the largest importer of plywood and sawnwood from Africa, the second largest from Asia, and a key market for Russia.

Environmental groups say European imports of illegally felled timber are worth 1.2 billion euros ($1.49 billion) a year and the trade can lead to more forest fires and poaching.

Many of the ministers who took the floor at the monthly meeting said the EU plan for action against illegal logging was welcome but long overdue. Britain said its success would depend largely on the degree of enforcement. Several countries, notably Austria, Latvia, Romania and Slovenia, voiced concern about the possible extra costs the scheme would impose on their timber industries and importers.

"What we fear is that companies would have to provide lots of documents, small companies in particular. The burden could be considerable," said Walter Grahammer, Austria's deputy permanent representative to the European Union.

"It's also a question of stopping suppliers from supplying illegal timber," Dutch Agriculture Minister Gerda Verburg said. "But the burden must not be so great that we discourage people from making the effort (to comply)," she said.

Illegal logging costs governments of timber-producing states between 10 and 15 billion euros a year, the Commission says.

It estimates about 19 percent of the timber products used in the EU pulp and paper sector are of illegal origin.

(Reporting by Jeremy Smith; editing by Tim Pearce)