On the 3rd March 2013 Europe will make a step change – the common market will be exposed to elements of the timber industry that were previously hidden. What is this wood? Where did it come from? In recent decades large areas of forest have disappeared from conservation areas due to the combination of illegal logging and profit (at the expense of all other considerations) orientated businesses.
The first time I stumbled across the issue of timber traceability was in a personal, rather than professional, capacity. I was buying wooden decking for my garden. I asked the shop clerk the difference between different types of products; finding out the origin at the time was impossible. The price difference made it clear that there was something fundamentally different (although not necessarily illegal) about the sourcing of the different products. From a consumer’s perspective I felt this was an extremely substandard situation – I was aware of different forest management practices, but I was unable to make an informed decision at the point of purchase.
At that time chain of custody approaches existed but these were based on process certification as opposed to physical tracking of objects. Those approaches were limited insofar as tracking of material throughout the supply chain was not possible. In 2010 the European Union made moves to address the consumer end of the supply chain – with a view to protecting the common market from association with illegally logged timber.
The European consumer has a low awareness of the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR); its creation and implementation has primarily been driven by the European Commission and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs have publicised illegal practices and through sustained pressure have created an environment of consumer awareness. At least within the European Union from the 3rd March 2013 the import of timber and timber products will be governed by this regulation.
Government and supranational involvement in supply chains is not always popular – but the EUTR provides a great opportunity for retailers. I believe strongly that batch level traceability will provide another point of differentiation within a highly competitive market. I also believe that retailers will change their sourcing behaviours, reacting to suppliers which position themselves as being better able to trace than the competition. It is likely that there will be an increased number of preferred supplier agreements formed, and those suppliers not quick to react in a coordinated way to EUTR will be excluded from the market. Some suppliers will disappear altogether, others will focus on domestic markets – but given the EU’s drive to push its practices overseas by creating capability outside the European Union, other markets may also quickly become closed.
Illegal logging will continue to happen, but I hope that its days are rapidly dwindling.