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Greater enforcement of EU Timber Regulation will help improve forest governance

The European Commission has launched a first infringement procedure against Belgium for failure to enforce the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits the placing of illegally harvested timber on the EU market. Those putting timber on the EU internal market must identify any risk of illegal harvesting and take measures to mitigate them. The EUTR is a key part of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, which is beginning to bear fruit.

Belgium, through its port of Antwerp, is the third largest importer of timber from Cameroon and Brazil, countries where the risk of illegality is very high. The Belgian Competent Authority, which is supposed to ensure that operators respect their obligations under the EUTR, works only on a part-time basis and has been carrying out only partial controls.

The Commission has sent a formal notice to the Belgian authorities after an investigation found that Belgium had not managed to carry out a significant number of verifications since the EUTR entered into force in 2013.  Belgium has two months to reply.

In the Netherlands, following evidence presented by the NGO Environmental Investigation Agency, Dutch company Boogaerdt Hout was found guilty of violating the EUTR by placing illegally sourced Burmese teak on the market. The Dutch government has given Boogaerdt Hout two months to eliminate Burmese teak from its supply chain. If the company has not complied by that time, it will be fined EUR 20,000 per cubic meter of illegal timber.

These two recent cases show a more robust uptake of the EUTR and send a positive signal for the continuation of the FLEGT Action Plan.