European rules to combat the trade of illegal timber have come into force, but NGOs and think tanks doubt the readiness of EU countries to carry out the legislation.
The new laws, which came into effect on Monday (4 March), require operators importing or producing wood to identify its country of origin and legality.
The regulation also prohibits the sale of illegally harvested timber on the European market to cut profits from the trade worldwide, which analysts link to deforestation and desertification, rising CO2 emissions, corruption, armed conflict and the destruction of vulnerable communities.
The EU law requires member states to lay down "effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties". However, despite two years of preparation, EU countries have so far failed to apply the legislation or impose credible penalties and sanctions, said analysis by the WWF.
“The introduction of the EUTR [EU Timber Regulation] was a landmark decision by the EU institutions, but it is meaningless unless it becomes a strong national law”, said WWF's EU forest policy advisor Anke Schulmeister.
In some member states illegal timber trading can result in criminal sanctions and in others it may only lead to a fine, the WWF said, adding that it doubted that all EU countries would apply the law with the same rigour.
Analysis by London-based think tank Chatham House found that the majority of governments polled said they needed additional expertise for their national authority to comply with the regulation, adding that a “substantial data gap” existed between member states. Eighteen of 20 countries admitted to having no established protocol for substantiated concerns of illegal logging.
The regulation covers both imported and EU-produced timber and wood products, including paper and pulp to solid wood furniture and flooring. It also sets a landmark law obliging traders to apply “due diligence” to ensure the timber they are selling comes from legal sources.
The EU is also pursuing bilateral agreements to tackle illegal logging with six major timber-producing countries – Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Liberia and Indonesia.
“We must also remember that just because it is legal, doesn’t mean that timber products have been produced without destroying valuable forest ecosystems”, Schulmeister said in a statement calling for EU countries to enforce the new law.
“We have to focus on making sure that timber products in the EU come from sustainable forest sources.”
The European Parliament and the Council laid down the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) on 20 October 2010.
The European Commission estimates that deforestation and forest degradation accounts for about 20% of global CO2 emissions. Chatham House also links the international trade in illegal logging to billions of euros in lost revenue for governments, corruption, armed conflict, the destruction of forest-dependent communities, and the undermining of the rule of law and good governance.
In 2012, Interpol and the UN launched Project Leaf, an initiative to combat illegal logging and organised forest crime. In February, Interpol said almost 200 people had been arrested in a wide-ranging international anti-illegal logging operation. A three-month effort in Central and South American countries has seized €6 million worth of timber.
EU official documents
NGOs and think tanks
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