During a meeting on the 15th of December, the EU Council of Agricultural Ministers decided against a proposal to put an EU-wide legal ban on trade in illegal wood products - a move that would match the strict US Lacey Act, which is impacting production and trade chains around the world.
The proposal formed part of the negotiations to finalize a new piece of EU legislation, the so-called 'Due Diligence' timber regulation. According to several sources, the EU ministers instead opted for a soft model which aims to restrict the placement of illegal wood products on the EU market by requiring importers and forest owners to carry out a sort of self-control.
Disappointment with the outcome of the meeting was subsequently expressed by NGOs such as Greenpeace as well as by several political and governmental agencies.
Green MEP Caroline Lucas, who drafts the EU Parliament legislative reports on this issue, commented: "EU agricultural ministers have shamefully watered down illegal timber legislation that would make a significant contribution towards meeting the massive challenges ahead. Securing strong EU legislation against the illegal trade of timber would help to reduce the wider problem of deforestation, which accounts for nearly a fifth of the global total emissions causing climate change".
Opinions were actually divided among the EU ministers. According to several sources the UK, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium had favoured an outright ban. After the conclusion of the meeting the Danish Minister of Environment Troels Lund Poulsen said, "I'm disappointed at EU's lack of ambition. Today a clear signal should have been sent that there is no longer any demand for illegal wood products".
The process now continues with further discussion in the EU Parliament and EU Council this year. The EU Parliament is clearly in favour of stronger measures including a clear ban on illegal timber, and it is likely that EU countries sharing this opinion will join forces with the parliament to move the process in this direction.
Weak EU legislation may water down REDD impact
Faith Doherty of the organization EIA also warned about the negative implications for the related efforts to combat deforestation under the REDD scheme : “Without addressing illegal trade in forest products, any effort to establish a new global trade in forest carbon, which the EU highlights as an option in its negotiating position at Copenhagen, would be utterly hypocritical. Without strong governance measures in Europe any decision on REDD will mean nothing.”
US politicians put pressure on Australia to ban illegal timber
While the EU politicians continue to discuss the measures to be taken, global pressures to ban illegal timber are mounting.
For example, the debate on appropriate measures to stop the trade in illegal timber is ongoing in Australia. In addition to strong NGO voices, Australian timber and furniture companies have joined in and called on the Australian government to ban illegal timber. And recently, 11 members of the US Congress urged the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, to fulfill an election promise to ban the import of illegal timber to the land down under.
Despite all good efforts to combat illegal logging, unlawful timber remains big business. Illegal timber products worth a staggering 10 billion USD are believed to be traded on the global market every year - by a conservative estimate, that is!
Illegal logging: Will EU legislation match the Lacey Act? (29/8 2009)
Impact of the Lacey Act (17 April 2009)
Stiff penalties for illegal timber trade under way in EU (25 February 2009)
New EU initiavties to curb deforestation and import of illegal timber (27 October 2008)