Tuesday July 17, 2007

Tightening regulations

Europe is placing new rules on timber products that can enter its market. 

SO far-reaching is the impact of illegal logging that consumer countries are seeing the need to take the lead in stemming the flow of timber and timber-based products into their markets. Unlawful deforestation has been propelled onto the agenda of the world’s most powerful political grouping. 

Recently, during a meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany, the Group of Eight (G8) was presented with a set of policies to tackle the problem. However, the wealthy nations’ club is only expected to deliberate and endorse the policies at the next annual summit in Japan. (G8 brings together the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and Russia with a yearly rotational presidency.) 

There is increasing recognition that the higher value which timber products fetch in international market is fuelling illegal logging in the forests of Asia, Africa and South America. There is also the added urgency brought by climate change; illegal logging is said to remove trees which could counter at least 20% of greenhouse gas emissions that’s heating up the planet. 

Eco-savvy consumers in G8 countries are demanding for greater political leadership from their respective governments in tackling not only illegal but unsustainable forestry practices. Ahead of the Heiligendamm meeting, legislators from each of the G8 countries and all major tropical timber producers from Brazil, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Malaysia and Indonesia attended the G8 Illegal Logging Dialogue to resolve the menace. 

Malaysia was represented by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid, Deputy Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Anifah Aman and Beluran MP Datuk Ronald Kiandee of Sabah. 

Organised by the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE), the two-day dialogue discussed four broad themes: market mechanisms, legislations, financial measures and forestry governance. The dialogue was supported by the British government, World Bank and the wood supply sector. 

The European Union is reviewing laws to allow it to take action when illegal timber is found in its member countries.
Dialogue co-chair Barry Gardiner said producer countries lost an estimated US$10bil to US$15bil (RM34bil to RM51bil) a year in tax revenue to illegal harvesting of timber. This impedes the governments’ ability to perform forest rehabilitation. 

“There’s tremendous responsibilities in consumer countries to support legal timber. It’s now between G8 and the European Union (EU) to leverage co-operation to eliminate illegal timber. The fundamental role for industry is to ensure transparency in their supply chain,” said the British Minister for Biodiversity. 

He said Britain has shown that it was possible to avoid the use of illegal timber through its public procurement policy which limits government projects to legally-harvested timber.  

G8 governments’ contracts account for 18% of total G8 timber use (US$23bil or RM78bil) and as such, is considered an important market tool to curb the utilisation of illegal timber. 

“From April 2009, we will accept only independently-audited timber and by 2015, timber with the FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) licence will be rewarded with market access,” Gardiner said.  

The British government assessed five forest certification schemes against its contract requirements for legality and sustainability in late 2004. Four schemes – the Canadian Standards Association, Forest Stewardship Council, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative were accepted while the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) was found to assure only legality of supplies. 

These certification schemes are subjected to periodical re-assessment. However, there are still weaknesses in the system. Last summer, it was discovered that illegally-logged Bintangor from Papua New Guinea had been used in restoration of the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square in London despite assurance that the timber used was certified. 

The plywood was processed in China, a major laundering centre for illegally-harvested logs from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Environmental groups have urged the government to make it an offence to import and sell illegal timber in domestic market. 

G8, particularly its members in the EU, is looking at a timber licensing system through its FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with producer countries. Timber products from partner countries will only be allowed access to the EU if they possess a licence of legality.  

Environmental Investigation Agency’s president Allan Thornton said the G8 illegal logging reflects the growing determination of nations to halt the flow of illegal timber.  

“Countries that embrace VPA will be at an advantage. The voluntary scheme increases value for products and creates a positive image. It will encourage industry to be more responsible and promote sustainable growth.” 

However, it has been noted that the licensing system would not be able to prevent laundering of timber through a third country or a non-VPA member states and vice versa. Towards this end, EU is reviewing domestic laws in its member states that would enable them to act after illegal timber has landed in their territories.  

A series of VPAs are currently under negotiation and the most likely early signatories include Cameroon, Ghana, Indonesia and Malaysia. A global licensing scheme based on the FLEGT VPA is likely to be developed into a G8-wide system where individual producer countries will sign their respective VPAs with G8 members. 

The dialogue also concluded that the development of financing instruments for sustainable forest management would cover payment for ecosystem services, carbon sequestration and support to community forestry enterprises.  

A forest sector transparency index will also be explored in a feasibility study that includes participation of the private and public sector.  


Related Story:
Malaysia’s position


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