In November 2021, the European Commission published its draft Regulation on deforestation-free products: its long-awaited proposal for stopping goods which have been produced illegally or cause deforestation from entering the EU market.
This law has the potential to fill a key missing piece in the global puzzle of how to halt the destruction of precious forest ecosystems, and it sends a strong signal to producer countries that ending deforestation and forest degradation is a priority for European consumers.
But signals alone won’t stop deforestation.
The Regulation’s weaknesses and strengths have been picked apart and analysed, including by Fern. Less space has been given to civil society members and NGOs working to stop deforestation in the countries that the EU imports forest-risk products from.
This publication, our fifth Forest Governance newsletter, provides the perspective of Fern’s partners in Ghana, Liberia, the Congo Basin and Brazil on the effect the legislation will have in their countries; how will it impact their fight against deforestation and the human rights abuses that frequently accompany it; its shortcomings and how can it be improved.
An overriding theme is that in preparing this law, the EU is failing to undertake any meaningful consultation with people in producer countries on how best to design legislation and support measures.
It reveals some clear commonality between regions – all welcomed the intent and aspirations of the proposal. Most see it as an advocacy tool for encouraging national action to tackle deforestation and as an opportunity to raise human rights and livelihoods concerns.
For most of our partners, the major criticism lies in fact that there are no clear mechanisms to shake up the supply chains that keep farmers poor.
When partners consider how the proposal might play out in their own national context, it becomes clear that each country will present unique challenges, bottlenecks, and risks.
All the partners urge the EU to steer a path away from unilateral decision-making, and for clear and well-communicated channels for national stakeholder engagement. However opinions in African countries differ markedly from those in Brazil regarding the potential for national processes.
Those who have had a positive experience of multistakeholder processes through FLEGT VPAs, are concerned about losing those gains achieved in terms of their governments’ openness and dialogue, while those who regard their governments as actively sabotaging the environment and farmer and community rights, fear any nationally-held process would be coopted and monopolised by the government.
The views which follow are not necessarily Fern’s, but they highlight some of the challenges which need to be resolved if this ground-breaking legislation is to succeed.
EU Member States and Members of the European Parliament who will shape the final contours of the legislation would do well to heed these perspectives, given that they are based on direct experience of fighting deforestation on its frontlines.