BLOG: Despite reservations, we should stick with EUTR to tackle illegal timber trade

24 February 2016

Written by: Lindsay Duffield

Last week, UK newspaper the Guardian published a scathing article about a core EU regulation to prevent the trade in illegal timber, citing incomplete implementation and ‘no clear evidence’ that the EUTR is having any real effect on the illegal timber trade.

But the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) is still in its infancy and, according to the latest European Commission report, is ‘highly relevant’ with the ‘potential to achieve its objectives’.

The EUTR is one of a series of measures encapsulated in the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. It bans illegal timber from being placed on the EU market - right across all 28 member states - and imposes ‘due diligence’ requirements on importing companies.

Industry was quick to respond to the Guardian’s attack: Mike Jeffree, of the Timber Trade Journal, highlighted the huge (but possible) task of implementing the regulation and the significant achievements so far.  In a letter published in The Guardian on 18 February.

 “Every EU country has also had to establish new structures for EUTR enforcement. So it’s small wonder that, after just three years, it remains a work in progress. But the timber industry acknowledges this and, notably via the European Timber Trade Federation (ETTF), is urging improved implementation.

… European companies have worked with suppliers on meeting due diligence requirements, when they could easily abandon them to sell to less environmentally engaged customers.”

 [Read the full letter on the Guardian website]

Reviewing EU policy effectiveness

The EUTR has come to the fore now because of a review done for the European Commission. It follows the European Court of Auditors’ evaluation of the FLEGT Action Plan last year and precedes a review on the overall Action Plan anticipated later in the year.

This overall review will examine the flagship Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) which have enabled deep-seated governance reforms to take root in a number of tropical timber countries. 

EUTR is just one side of the equation

For Fern, the FLEGT Action Plan is an opportunity to dig away at some of the entrenched problems that make it so difficult to clean up the timber industry or ensure local communities benefit from the forest resources around them [watch a short animation introducing FLEGT for more on this]; problems like corruption, poor political accountability, weak capacity, poor transparency and a lack of coordination across government departments.

The EUTR is just one side of the equation. On the other are the fundamental changes in the way forests are owned and managed in tropical timber countries that are going to bring about the sort of lasting change that the EU says it wants to see.

We should not give up so quickly on the EUTR. It is a valuable instrument which, as part of a comprehensive approach, has the potential to simultaneously improve the state of the world’s forests, and the lives of those who rely on them.

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