Saturday, 1 November 2008

Companies wary as U.S. shapes illegal logging rules

Companies wary as U.S. shapes illegal logging rules

Tue Oct 28, 2008
By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new U.S. law aimed at stopping illegal logging that generates billions of dollars and threatens the world's forests is causing concern among companies on the front line of implementing the legislation.

"The intent was good, but I think it lacked many practical features that something of this magnitude ought to have," said Jon Kent, a lobbyist for the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, during a discussion at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The new law, which will be phased in over two years, requires companies to declare the country of origin as well as the genus and species of any wood or other plant material they import, with exceptions for common food crops and cultivars like corn, cotton or cut flowers.

Companies that trade in illegally sourced wood or file false import declarations would have their goods confiscated and could face criminal penalties as well.

The intent is to reduce demand for wood illegally harvested from government-protected areas in countries such as Indonesia, Honduras and Russia and which finds its way into a variety of imported goods sold in the United States.

It forces companies for the first time "to ask the most basic question of where is my wood from," said Alexander von Bismarck of the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency. The group pushed for the legislation along with the American Forest and Paper Association.

The World Bank estimates that illegal logging costs developing countries $15 billion annually in lost revenue.

It also threatens the habitat of many endangered species, like the orangutans of Southeast Asia and other rare animals in Latin America and Eurasia.

Goods affected by the new U.S. law range from flooring, furniture and wood pulp to less obvious items like paper, musical instruments, brooms, toys, games, sporting goods, umbrellas, wicker baskets and even resins and gums.

As many as 30,000 custom entries each day could require a declaration "and that's a heck of a lot of entries," said Bill Thomas, associate executive director of plant health programs at the U.S. Agriculture Department.
Federal agencies plan to begin phasing in the new declaration requirement from April 1, assuming a new electronic filing system is up and running by and then. The initial focus will be on products "closest to the tree and easiest to come up with the genus and species," Thomas said.

The government has exempted books from the requirements and could decide the same for owners manuals even though paper will be covered, Thomas said.

Retailers have had some of their concerns over the scope of the law addressed, but many still believe new legislation is needed to better define what products are and are not covered, said Erik Autor, vice president for international trade at the National Retail Federation.

"The further you get away from the plant or the tree," the harder it is for companies to supply the required information, Autor said. "That's particularly the case for highly refined or processed products."

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