FLEGT is not the only market initiative that aims to address the trade that drives illegal logging. Other major markets have passed or are developing laws to prohibit imports of illegal timber products.
FLEGT is not the only market initiative that aims to address the trade that drives illegal logging. Other major markets that have passed or are developing laws to prohibit trade in illegal timber products include:
- United States: The 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act makes it illegal to import plants and plant products – and therefore paper and timber products – that have been harvested in violation of laws in their country of origin. In 2015, the US flooring company Lumber Liquidators agreed to pay US$13.2 million in fines and other costs after it pled guilty to violating the Lacey Act.
- Australia: The Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act took effect in November 2014. It prohibits importers from placing illegal timber on the market. Like the EU Timber Regulation, the Australian act requires companies to use due diligence to assess the risk of illegality.
- Norway: In May 2015, Norway implemented legislation akin to the EU Timber Regulation.
Other countries that are attempting to address illegality in their timber supplies include China, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland.
See ClientEarth: Comparing illegal logging laws in the EU, USA and Australia
Limits to FLEGT
Shifting global dynamics have highlighted some limitations of the EU FLEGT Action Plan.
The rise of conversion timber
Since FLEGT was set up, a new trend has emerged. Total deforestation to make way for mining, roads, dams or monocultures of crops such as oil palm, rubber and soy shot ahead of illegal logging as the biggest threat to forests. Forest conversion has also sparked many conflicts with local communities. And according to Forest Trends, much ‘conversion timber’ is illegal. The NGO Fern has urged the EU to consider FLEGT-like mechanisms for agricultural commodities, incorporate conversion timber into new Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) and develop a broader EU Action Plan on Deforestation and Forest Degradation.
Major market shifts
The economic crisis of 2008 cut EU demand for tropical timber. Seven years on, the trade has not recovered to its former level. Meanwhile, demand from China, India and other markets has risen fast. When Liberia started VPA negotiations in 2009, more than 90 percent of its timber went to Europe. Within three years, that figure had reversed with 90 percent of timber now going to China. China has become the largest importer of tropical wood and is the destination of more than three-quarters of Africa’s timber exports. By contrast, Indonesia has reported a marked increase in exports to the EU since it implemented its timber legality assurance system. The FLEGT independent market monitor will track the impacts of FLEGT licensing on market trends.
FLEGT and REDD+ links
Governments, companies and many – but far from all – civil society organisations involved in the UN climate talks have increasingly come to see carbon stored in forests and landscapes as a potent weapon in the fight against global warming. They hope to wield that weapon through a mechanism called REDD+, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. How can REDD+, whose environmental and social goals are backed by large sums of finance, link up with FLEGT, whose goals also include promoting trade in timber? A useful source of information is the EU REDD Facility.
FLEGT and forest certification
Of particular concern to companies is how FLEGT and Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) relate to existing certification schemes like that of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). According to the EU Timber Regulation, for instance, FSC certification does not constitute evidence of legality. FSC, for its part, “applauds legislation adopted in the USA, the EU and Australia, to prevent the use of illegally harvested timber, both imported and domestically produced.”
FSC seeks to ensure that companies producing timber products do so sustainably. But the diversity among countries of both laws and – crucially – enforcement standards, confounds the efforts of private certification bodies like the FSC. “All countries with forests have rules to manage ownership and harvesting rights, to contain possible environmental and social impacts, and to govern trade and export,” says FSC. “But the level of enforcement of these rules is very different across the globe. This means that neither foresters who work within the framework of the law, nor those who want to use the responsible management practices required by FSC certification, are competing on a level playing field with those who operate outside the law.”
The EU FLEGT Action Plan explicitly tries to level that playing field through both the EU Timber Regulation and legality reforms in exporting countries.
Credit: EU FLEGT Facility