Timber Certification the Answer?


Forest Networking a Project of Ecological Enterprises


Following is a photocopy of an Environmental News Network article, circulated here on request of the author, which questions the current movement to require the certification of tropical timber's harvest method. While this list has generally been in favor of an approach which allows consumers to choose timbers that are harvested benignly; the idea's problematic points, including concern that certification in fact would have little effect on tropical timber's environmental impact, are made.

Europe and tropical timber: A case study in trade and the environment (c) 1996 Jean-Pierre Kiekens Copyright c 1996, Environmental News Network Inc.

The rapid destruction of tropical forests has led certain non-governmental organizations to advocate various measures to regulate the international timber trade in view of getting it play a positive role in conserving forests.

--By Jean-Pierre Kiekens

This article is a slightly adapted version from "The Tropical Wood Trade in Europe" published in the Autumn 1995 issue of Ecodecision, the environmental policy journal of the Royal Society of Canada.

"Europe and tropical timber are the components of a sad case study in trade and the environment ," says Kiekens. During the 1980s, tropical forests drew the attention of the international community. Their rapid destruction rate led certain non-governmental organizations to promote a boycott of tropical timber, the reasoning being that trade in this commodity was a major cause of tropical deforestation. While this type of pressure has not been completely abandoned Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund support for example a boycott of Brazilian mahogany -- NGOs have gone on to advocate various voluntary and compulsory measures to regulate the international timber trade in view of getting it play a positive role in conserving forests.

As a reaction, various trade measures have been suggested, from voluntary environmental labelling to import quotas. Can they be expected to contribute to sustainable forestry management?

Proposals for regulating the tropical timber trade The first effort at regulation was undertaken by the European Parliament in 1988. It sought to establish quotas for tropical timber, to be negotiated in advance with the producer countries and to come into force by 1995. It also suggested a ban on timber imports from Sarawak, claiming that the Malaysian state was overexploiting its forests and violating the rights of indigenous populations.

The European Parliament passed as well resolutions to make tropical timbers subject to a European Regulation under the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. However, these resolutions were never implemented, mainly because of the disagreement of tropical countries and of the European timber industry.

Two European countries -- Austria and the Netherlands -- have drawn up national trade policies. In 1992, Austria introduced a special import duty of 70 per cent and a compulsory labelling system for tropical timber. Certain tropical timber producing countries quickly brought these measures to the attention of the GATT, which had just prohibited the use of trade measures to achieve environmental objectives in third countries. Confronted by this opposition, the Austrian government was forced to cancel these two trade components of its policy on tropical forests.

For its part, the Dutch policy sought, by 1995, to allow imports of tropical timber only from regions where sustainable forestry management is practiced. As the Netherlands was bound not only by the GATT but also by the Treaty of Rome, it opted in 1993 for a voluntary accord, and undertook bilateral consultations with its main suppliers. Because of a lack of enthusiasm - and an insufficiency of sustainably produced tropical timber to supply the Dutch market, the Netherlands government canceled the agreement one year after it was signed. The outcome was the same as in Austria -- that is, a continuation of free trade.

The emergence of voluntary timber certification/labelling Other European countries have followed a more prudent course. In Germany, professional associations in the timber sector have pressured their members to import only tropical timber if produced sustainably. They launched the "Tropenwald Initiative", the main objective of which was to set up a voluntary certification system so as to distinguish sustainably produced timber during marketing.

In the United Kingdom, the main initiative is the "1995 Group", launched by WWF in 1991. Participating companies undertook, by the end of 1995, to only purchase timber from sustainably managed sources. WWF insists that these firms hire the services of private agencies to establish an independent system for certifying the origin of the timber they purchase. By 1995, no participating company had reached the assigned objective. Some of them have even come to endorse the Year 2000 target, initially proposed by the International Tropical Timber Organization, but considered as too distant by most environmental NGOs.

These private certification initiatives -- as well as others in countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Austria -- were particularly influenced by the Forest Stewardship Council, created in 1993 by several NGOs (WWF, Greenpeace, World Resources Institute, Friends of the Earth, etc.). The goal of the Council is to supervise the certification of timber throughout the world by accrediting private certification agencies.

At the same time, national certification systems are being established in various countries such as Finland and Sweden. Industrialized countries outside the EU are also developing certification systems. For example, in Canada, a standard has been developed by the Canadian Standards Association for forestry certification, in response mainly to pressures in Germany against the practice of clear cutting. In boreal and temperate zones, the impetus for these initiatives does not come so much from consumers' "willingness to pay" as from the danger of seeing competitors adopt timber certification.

Timber certification and its marginal role in international timber trade

It is important to analyze the foreseeable effect of certification on the international timber trade before studying its environmental impact. With regard to the demand for certified timber, only a few market segments in a few countries would be affected: the sector of do-it-yourself chain stores and public markets in certain cities in such countries as Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Outside these niche markets, it is not clear whether certification will be adopted on any significant scale. Compared with world-wide production, the demand for certified wood remains negligible. It is probably the paper industry that could have the most significant impact because=20 of the development of eco-labels for paper.

In the tropics, timber certification is proceeding more slowly, although in principle it has been accepted in various countries, for example Indonesia, Mexico and several West and Central African countries member of the African Timber Organization. Certain tropical countries -- in particular, Malaysia and Brazil -- seem to reject any international certification program before the year 2000, although studies and limited projects are being implemented and discussions on timber certification are being held in the context of ITTO. See table.

These supply and demand patterns indicate that certification will only have a slight effect on the international timber trade. They also suggest that it will be producers in industrialized countries who will mostly benefit thereby. If these trends become more pronounced, tropical timber will be replaced by timber from temperate and northern zones, and the result will be a form of environmental protectionism. Also to be expected are trade diversions and their associated economic costs, including a lower competitiveness of timber versus substitute materials.

Timber certification and its dubious impact on sustainable forestry management

Similarly to its limited effect on the timber trade, certification will have only a slight direct impact on sustainable forestry management. This particularly applies to tropical timber-producing countries, where sustainable forestry management remains especially uncommon (Kiekens, et al. 1995; Poore 1989). The main markets for the two main exporters (Malaysia and Indonesia) are in Asia (Japan, South Korea, China, etc.), where there is no demand whatsoever for certified wood. Only a few African countries are somewhat dependent on environmentally sensitive markets. Of course, certification can perturb some markets, but it can hardly be expected to lead to significant changes in forestry resource management.

While the direct effects of certification on forestry management ought to be marginal, that is not necessarily the case for indirect effects. For developing countries, there is a great danger that timber certification be considered as a substitute for financial and technical assistance. This fear was substantiated by the "Forest Protocol" recently added to the Lom=82 IV Convention - the main instrument of development cooperation in the hands of the European Union. In contrary to the initial proposal (Kiekens 1995) and the commitments made by industrial countries in Rio de Janeiro, the Lom=82 Forest Protocol does not include any new financial resources for forestry. It requires, however, the developing countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific to "support the definition and development of certification systems... as part of envisaged internationally harmonized certification systems for all kinds of timber and timber products" (see Zolty, 1995).

In industrialized countries, timber certification presents the problem of choosing between voluntary and compulsory regulation. The original impetus for certification comes from international trade issues, i.e. the need to avoid non- tariff trade barriers. Its voluntary nature can however be called into question in domestic situations -- for example, in respect to forestry in countries such as Finland, Sweden and Canada. A voluntary instrument that affects only part of the sector can indeed be expected to be less effective than a compulsory regulation.

Timber certification: sound politics maybe, but hardly a sound policy

Europe's difficulties in introducing trade measures to promote sustainable forestry management show that the only measure on which some consensus exists -- timber certification -- cannot be expected to play any significant role as an incentive toward sustainable forestry. The harmful effects of this measure, in particular on tropical forestry management, could more than wipe out the environmental benefits it is supposed to bring about.

Despite these limitations, European decision makers seem enthusiastic about timber certification. In supporting it, they are responding positively to the demands of environmental NGOs, which greatly influence public opinion

Through certification they can perhaps slow the introduction of new domestic forestry regulations. Finally, by supporting certification, they have found an unexpected argument in favor of limiting their forestry aid to developing countries. So, despite the considerable difficulties and costs for implementing certification in the highly fragmented European forests, EU decision makers seem about to recognize "the importance of timber certification as a means of promoting the sustainable management of all types of forests" (EC, 1995).

Europe and tropical timber are the components of a sad case study in trade and the environment. The lesson to be learned from this should be obvious, especially when an extra-territorial objective is being pursued. Effective policies in international forestry co-operation should be preferred to dubious trade measures to promote sustainable forestry, especially in the tropics.

(Jean-Pierre Kiekens lectures development economics at the "Universite libre de Bruxelles" and heads the consulting firm Environmental Strategies Europe, which specialises in strategic policy studies regading the environment. His recent academic and consulting work focused on sustainable forest management and international timber trade. He can be contacted at kiekens@ibm.net. Other papers by Jean-Pierre Kiekens can be consulted at http://www.infobahnos.com/~kiekens)

European Commission. 1995. Draft terms of reference. European Working Group on Timber Certification. Brussels, European Commission.

Kiekens, J-P. 1995. Proposal of a Forest/Timber Protocol in the Lom Convention: Integrated Approach to Promote Sustainable Forestry in the ACP Countries" Afrique Agriculture, 227:37-39.

Kiekens, J-P. et al. 1995. Sustainable Forest Management, International Registration of Forests and Timber Certification. Report submitted to the French Ministry of Co-operation and the European Commission. Brussels Environmental Strategies Europe.

Poore, Duncan et al. 1989. No Timber Without Trees. Earthscan Publications= Ltd.

Zolty, A. 1995. The ACP/EU Compromise: a Small Jewel of Inconsistency. Afrique Agriculture, 227:34.

This document is a PHOTOCOPY and all recipients should seek permission from the source for reprinting. You are encouraged to utilize this information for personal campaign use. All efforts are made to provide accurate, timely pieces; though ultimate responsibility for verifying all information rests with the reader. Check out our Gaia Forest Conservation Archives at URL= http://forests.org/

Networked by:
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Email (best way to contact)-> grbarry@students.wisc.edu


Subject: Malaysia & Bad Forestry Practicies


Forest Networking a Project of Ecological Enterprises http://forests.org/


In a rare and welcome display of candor, the Malaysia government has acknowedged complicity in the wholesale industrial clearing of the Solomon Islands rainforests by Malaysian multi-national loggers. In the following Greenpeace press release, the increasing significance of local, sustainable, community-managed timber programmes in meeting local people's development needs in this small Pacific island country is also highlighted. Malaysia and its timber companies appear to be beginning to get the message--the world is watching and will not tolerate plundering of remaining rainforests. This item comes from econet's gp.press conference.


Greenpeace Press Release

AUCKLAND 6 November 1996 -- Greenpeace today welcomed the call for Malaysian firms operating in the Solomon Islands to be 'sensitive to environmental issues', made by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Monday, according to press reports from Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Ibrahim's comments were significant because the 'voluntary control' Malaysian timber companies are supposed to abide by is obviously not working on the ground, said Greenpeace Pacific's Forests campaigner Grant Rosoman.

"At last the Malaysian Government has acknowledged how destructive Malaysian timber companies operations are for the Solomons' environment and people," said Grant Rosoman. "Greenpeace is pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister has publicly called on companies like Kumpulan Emas and Rimbunan Hijau to shape up and stop tarnishing Malaysia's image abroad."

Solomon Islanders are currently suffering the disastrous effects of uncontrolled foreign logging company operations, which are often supported by the Solomons Government itself. Many ordinary Solomon Islanders actively oppose uncontrolled logging, instead supporting environmentally sustainable forms of local management for their forests. The Central Bank of Solomon Islands has recently acknowledged the growing economic importance of locally controlled, small-scale forestry operations.

"Over the last 3 years the potential for local, sustainable, community-managed timber programmes has been proven by local people, working together with Greenpeace and Solomons' non- governmental organisations. Malaysian logging companies could learn a lot from our successful 'ecotimber' operations- which give Solomon Islanders real control of their own resources and a fair share of the profits," said Grant Rosoman.

"Ecoforestry offers a ray of hope because it shows there is a viable and equitable alternative to industrial logging."

The first shipment of Solomons ecotimber is due to arrive in Auckland in December. Papua New Guinea ecotimber is also due to arrive in Sydney in December, available for use in the 'Green' Olympics in 2000.

Contact Grant Rosoman or Glyn Walters: +64 9 630 6317 or +64 25 931 363. For more details of Greenpeace's ecotimber work in Solomons and PNG please ask us for a copy of the new Greenpeace Pacific report 'Working Together- Sustaining Forests and Communities in Melanesia'.

You are encouraged to utilize this information for personal campaign use. All efforts are made to provide accurate, timely pieces; though ultimate responsibility for verifying all information rests with the reader. Check out our Gaia Forest Conservation Archives at URL= http://forests.org/

Networked by:
Ecological Enterprises
Email (best way to contact)-> grbarry@students.wisc.edu

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