EU countries failing to halt illegal timber trade
More than a year after the entry into force of the EU’s law governing timber trade, and one week after the European Commission (EC) published the deeply worrying results of its scorecard on the national implementation of the law, a survey by WWF confirms that many EU countries are still failing to halt the entry of illegal wood products into the EU markets.
WWF’s EU Government Barometer, conducted in the first half of 2014, shows that only 11 EU countries have so far adopted national legislation and procedures considered robust enough to control the legality of timber and timber products and set high penalties for those breaching the rules. These countries are Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and the UK.
All other 17 countries have either not adapted their national legislation to the European law or have adopted legislation where low sanctions or dysfunctional prosecution systems are considered obstacles for an effective implementation of the law.
WWF urges the European Commission to use the results of the surveys to put more pressure on national governments and take legal action against non- compliant countries.
Illegal logging has devastating environmental, social and economic impacts on some of the most pristine forests in the world and the people who rely on them; this illegality also affects European businesses and consumers who comply with the rules. It accounts for 30% of the global timber trade and contributes to more than 50% of tropical deforestation in Central Africa, the Amazon and South East Asia.
Cutting forests illegally results in lost revenues estimated at 7 billion euros per year, damages legitimate operators, locally and in Europe, causes deforestation, biodiversity loss, increases greenhouse gas emissions, and also threatens the livelihood of local communities.
The countries from WWF's Green Heart of Europe initiative in Central and Eastern Europe unfortunately score poorly. For example:
Bulgaria’s results are lower compared to previous years. Changes to legislation to comply with the EUTR have been implemented, but with gaps. The fines and penalties are the lowest in the survey.
Hungary’s performance in 2014 is significantly worse than in 2012. Hungary was not able to fully answer questions in the 2014 barometer and has failed to score any points. No legislation to support the EUTR has been drafted, let alone adopted.
Romania’s score in 2014 is consistent with 2012. Legislation to support the FLEGT Regulation is in place, and legislation to implement the EUTR was recently approved. As the legal framework is very recent, the competent authority showed very little activity at the time of the survey.
Slovakia scored only one point in the 2014 barometer. The competent authority has a single person dedicated to the EUTR.
Anke Schulmeister, WWF Forest Policy Officer said:
“The World Bank estimates that every two seconds, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers around the globe. It is disturbing to see that despite the EU’s full awareness of the size and impact of illegal logging, and of its responsibility in fuelling such criminal activity, EU countries are still allowing tonnes of illegally sourced wood and wood products across their borders."
"We need to guarantee that forests are managed sustainably, that local environment and communities are protected and that European markets are not disrupted and damaged by illegal low price products.”
“There is no excuse to further delay national actions to prove and guarantee the full legality of the products European consumers buy. Trading in illegal timber is a crime and it needs to be treated and sanctioned as such.”
In 2011 the EU accounted for 35% (€37.8 billion) of the global trade of primary timber products. As acknowledged by the European Commission, even if it is difficult to estimate what percentage of this trade was in illegally harvested timber, the EU is an important export market for countries where levels of illegality and poor governance in the forest sector are most serious.
Since 2004 WWF is carrying out the Government Barometer on illegal logging and trade, as a means of assessing how EU national governments' are meeting their commitments under the FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Action Plan, agreed in 2003. The 2014 Barometer included also the assessment of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) which entered into force in 2013.
The 2014 Government Barometer was conducted from March till June 2014.
The survey evaluated governments’ performance on the following issues:
1) National and procedures legislation put in place or adapted according to the EU Timber regulation.
2) Enforcement of national legislation.
3) National legislation put in place to ensure that EU countries import legal timber and timber products from countries with Voluntary Partnership Agreements.
4) Support by EU countries to the Voluntary Partnership Agreements process.
5) Public Procurement Policies applied to Timber products.
This text only focuses on the answers provided to point 1) of the government barometer. The overall results from the different EU Member States to the government barometer are different to those results as a number of other areas were addressed as well.
The European Commission’s scorecard looked at three different areas for implementation: competent authorities, penalties and checks. Director-General Karl Falkenberg recently threatened to take legal actions against EU countries not complying with the rules.