EU timber ban splits UK’s certification schemes

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

The new timber regulation outlaws trade in timber-derived products obtained through illegal logging
The new timber regulation outlaws trade in timber-derived products obtained through illegal logging
With the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) coming into force this month, the UKvs two main forest certification schemes are taking different approaches to supporting compliance.

The Regulation outlaws trade in timber-derived products obtained through illegal logging. ‘Operators’ placing forestry products, including pulp, paper and board, on the market are obliged to hold specific data about the source, including the species of tree and country of origin. They are also required to have a due diligence system (DDS) in place for assessing and mitigating the risk of illegality.

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is introducing changes to its Chain of Custody (CoC) standard this year, not only to include the new data required, but also to provide a full DDS of its own.

Legal requirements

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), too, is expected to update its CoC standard to include the new data requirements. But FSC executive director Charles Thwaites said: “The role of providing DDSs to operators on a commercial basis did not appeal to FSC because there are considerable legal requirements placed on these providers. Also, such a role for FSC would involve a conflict of interest.”

The PEFC, on the other hand, describes its standalone DDS system as a potential “stepping stone to full CoC certification”.

Under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade process, voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs) are being drawn up with some key importer countries.

‘Dodge that responsibility’

Thwaites explained: “Countries where there is a VPA are being given a 'green lane' by the Regulation. Certified timber is not being given a ‘green lane’, because the legal responsibility for demonstrating due diligence lies with the operator importing products into the EU. The EUTR simply won't allow the operator to dodge that responsibility.”

He added that the FSC was aiming to provide “a high assurance of negligible risk”​ of products being illegally logged. The wording is important since, unless the source material is judged to be of 'negligible risk', information on the region and even the precise concession is required from the operator. Downstream ‘traders’ in timber-derived products, on the other hand, are obliged to keep records only of who they are buying from and selling to.

Larger operators are not expected to find the EUTR too burdensome. At Stora Enso in Finland, senior vice president group forest operations Antti Marjokorpi said: “The ultimate objective of fighting illegal logging is a good one. But in Europe, many firms have their own systems in place, and the Regulation won't necessarily provide any additional value.”

He added: “It is difficult as yet to say how the EUTR will be implemented. There will be extra bureaucracy and, as a result, extra costs. But costs will vary depending on each firm's preparedness.”

Composite products will pose what Thwaites at the FSC politely called “a particular challenge to traceability”.

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