Wednesday, 22 April 2009

MEPs adopt rules to keep illegal timber off the EU market

Environment - 22-04-2009 -

Stricter rules on timber sold in the EU are needed to combat illegal logging - the main cause of deforestation - says a legislative report by Caroline LUCAS (Greens/EFA, UK) adopted by the European Parliament.

All the operators in the timber supply chain must prove the legality of their timber and illegal timber suppliers must pay penalties that reflect the degree of environmental and economic damage, it added. The report was adopted with 465 for, 22 against and 187 abstentions.

EU rules need to be more effective, as 20 to 40% of global industrial wood production is from illegal sources, stresses the European Parliament, which wants to toughen the proposed legislation to ensure that illegally harvested timber and timber products are removed from the EU market, through a concrete system of traceability and monitoring.

Caroline Lucas speaking in the plenary debate said: "Illegal logging is a hugely serious problem, against which the EU has preached for many years, yet all the while continuing to provide one of the world’s biggest markets for illegally-logged timber and timber products.

Between 20 and 40% of global industrial wood production is estimated to come from illegal sources and up to 20% of that finds its way into the EU. That depresses timber prices, it strips natural resources and tax revenue, and it increases the poverty of forest-dependent peoples. The longer-term effects are even more serious... since deforestation, of which illegal logging is a major driver, accounts for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions."

Shared responsibility, tougher penalties

All operators in the supply chain shall ensure that only legally harvested timber and timber products are made available on the market. Obligations must therefore apply to operators throughout the timber supply chain, not just those placing timber on the market for the first time, as proposed by the Commission.

Financial penalties, to be set by EU Member States, must reflect the degree of environmental and economic damage caused by the illegal activity, add MEPs. These penalties must represent "at least five times the value of the timber products obtained by committing a serious infringement" and they will increase in the event of repeat infringements.

Due diligence - better information, traceability/labelling and monitoring

The "due diligence system", approved by MEPs, requires operators to reduce the risk of placing illegally harvested timber and timber products on the EU market to a minimum, using a system of detailed measures and procedures. This system only applies to operators placing the timber in the market for the first time, since they are considered to have the biggest influence and responsibility.

But to improve timber traceability, MEPs ask that all operators provide basic information about the source of the products, their country and forest of origin. They will also have to identify the operator who has supplied the timber and to whom it has been supplied, through a traceability system. Member States shall ensure that two years after the entry into force of the Regulation all timber and timber products places and made available on the market are labelled with this information.

Monitoring must also be improved, say MEPs, who call on the competent authorities to carry out checks on the supply chain and to apply "immediate corrective measures", such as "seizure of illegal logging" and enforcing the "cessation of commercial activity".

Timber from high-risk areas demands extra due diligence

Parliament calls on the Commission to establish certain categories, such as "high-risk" timber or suppliers which will require extra due diligence from the operators. Timber could be classified as high risk if, for example, it were from "countries where there is consistent and reliable information regarding significant failures of forest law governance" or a "high level of corruption". In such cases, operators will be subject to extra due diligence obligations.

No exceptions for biomass timber

The rules should cover all products that could contain illegally-sourced timber, "without exception", say MEPs, who deleted a proposed exemption for products covered by mandatory sustainability criteria, such as timber used for biomass.


Tropical forests are disappearing at a rate of about 13 million hectares per year (approximately the size of Greece).

Deforestation is responsible for around 20% of global CO2 emissions, making it a major contributor to climate change.

20% to 40% of global industrial wood production comes from illegal sources.

The European Union's policy to fight illegal logging and associated trade was defined in 2003 with the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Action Plan, regarding the improvement of forest governance and transparency in the forest sector and the implementation of public procurement practices that give preference to legally harvested timber and timber products in the EU Member States.

The European Union proposes to reduce gross tropical deforestation by at least 50 percent by 2020.