Timber Legality in 2017 – Key Events and Trends

By Ping-Lian Wu

Looking back at 2017 what would you think of? The recent Star Wars 8 The Last Jedi? The year of Trump? Or how about the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone? A product that shaped the world for a decade. In our business we’re also looking at a similar anniversary in the development of timber legality.

The initiative for combating the illegal logging and associated trading activities, has been launched since 2003 by EU FLEGT Facility. But it was 2008 that saw the first legislation come into force with the Lacey Act in the USA. Later in 2012 and 2013, Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act (Australia ILPA) and EU by EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) also control the timber product import into the market.

With this review, we take a quick look at how timber legality developed in 2017 and the major steps it has made so far.

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In October 2017, Australian Government announced the changes of the ILPA and published the “Reforming Australia’s Illegal Logging Regulations – Regulation Impact Statement (RIS)”. According to RIS, the establishment of new “deemed to comply” arrangement for FSC and PEFC certified products and removal of FLEGT license from the scope. The “soft-start” in Australia will be ended with penalties applying from beginning of 2018.

FLEGT licensed products from Indonesia became finally available on 15 November 2016. That sets as a milestone for FLEGT, and brings the attention to Asian countries. In 2017, several Asian countries implemented their timber legislations, such as Clean Wood Act from Japan (クリーンウッド法, since May 2017), Malaysian Timber Legality Assurance System, TLAS (since July 2017) and Taiwanese Forestry Bureau introduced the “Domestic timber and bamboo traceability system and certification” (國產木竹材溯源管理及認證制度, since 2017). In August 2017, Forest Trends published the report to compare Asian Approaches from analyzed countries: Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. According to the estimation from Forest Trends in this report, together with Lacey Act, EUTR and ILPA, these legislations could potentially cover 90% of the global timber trade.

It is a growing issue that some timber products are outside the scope of timber legality, including charcoal. The demand of charcoal for African as fuelwood and European grill culture lead the issue of misusing FSC label and deforestation in many tropical forests. A documentary from Vivian Pieper and Johannes Bünger demonstrates projects from TFT, the Thünen-Institute in Germany and WWF project: Eco-Malaka in Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 2017, all FSC charcoal are also mandatory for transaction verification and fiber test.

In 2017, we also saw a number of court judgements in Europe fining companies for breaking EUTR rules. Environmental groups suggest this is merely the tip of the iceberg with many companies, particularly in the furniture industry, with limited understanding of the sources of their products.

We’ve also seen great work from our colleagues in the field of traceability and timber legality. NEPCon launched SourcingHub, the largest and most detailed collection of risk assessments is now available since September 2017. Together with the launch of SourcingHub, NEPCon organized one-day due-diligence and EUTR workshop in 12 European countries.

Finally at PEFC Week 2017, the focus was on SMART solutions for strengthening trust and traceability throughout value chains. Our CEO, Dr. Ulrich Heindl was invited to share the uses of RADIX Tree for timber industry and all PEFC certification holders.

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We look forward to 2018 with several exciting new projects including our work with the Sustainable Biomass Program. You can read more about it here. Don’t forget to keep updated on our work and other developments in timber legality on Twitter and LinkedIn.