Timber Certification the Answer?
Forest Networking a Project of Ecological Enterprises
OVERVIEW & SOURCE by EE
Following is a photocopy of an Environmental News Network article,
here on request of the author, which questions the current movement to
the certification of tropical timber's harvest method. While this list has
generally been in favor of an approach which allows consumers to choose
that are harvested benignly; the idea's problematic points, including
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
the environment ," says Kiekens. During the 1980s, tropical forests drew
attention of the international community. Their rapid destruction rate led
certain non-governmental organizations to promote a boycott of tropical
the reasoning being that trade in this commodity was a major cause of
deforestation. While this type of pressure has not been completely abandoned
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund support for
a boycott of Brazilian mahogany -- NGOs have gone on to advocate various
voluntary and compulsory measures to regulate the international timber trade
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
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
timber imports from Sarawak, claiming that the Malaysian state was
overexploiting its forests and violating the rights of indigenous
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
implemented, mainly because of the disagreement of tropical countries and of
European timber industry.
Two European countries -- Austria and the Netherlands -- have drawn up
trade policies. In 1992, Austria introduced a special import duty of 70 per
and a compulsory labelling system for tropical timber. Certain tropical
producing countries quickly brought these measures to the attention of the
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
For its part, the Dutch policy sought, by 1995, to allow imports of tropical
timber only from regions where sustainable forestry management is practiced.
the Netherlands was bound not only by the GATT but also by the Treaty of
it opted in 1993 for a voluntary accord, and undertook bilateral
with its main suppliers. Because of a lack of enthusiasm - and an
of sustainably produced tropical timber to supply the Dutch market, the
Netherlands government canceled the agreement one year after it was signed.
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
tropical timber if produced sustainably. They launched the "Tropenwald
Initiative", the main objective of which was to set up a voluntary
system so as to distinguish sustainably produced timber during marketing.
In the United Kingdom, the main initiative is the "1995 Group", launched by
in 1991. Participating companies undertook, by the end of 1995, to only
timber from sustainably managed sources. WWF insists that these firms hire
services of private agencies to establish an independent system for
the origin of the timber they purchase. By 1995, no participating company
reached the assigned objective. Some of them have even come to endorse the
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
as Belgium, Switzerland and Austria -- were particularly influenced by the
Forest Stewardship Council, created in 1993 by several NGOs (WWF,
World Resources Institute, Friends of the Earth, etc.). The goal of the
is to supervise the certification of timber throughout the world by
private certification agencies.
At the same time, national certification systems are being established in
various countries such as Finland and Sweden. Industrialized countries
the EU are also developing certification systems. For example, in Canada, a
standard has been developed by the Canadian Standards Association for
certification, in response mainly to pressures in Germany against the
of clear cutting. In boreal and temperate zones, the impetus for these
initiatives does not come so much from consumers' "willingness to pay" as
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
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
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
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
Brazil -- seem to reject any international certification program before the
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
slight effect on the international timber trade. They also suggest that it
be producers in industrialized countries who will mostly benefit thereby. If
these trends become more pronounced, tropical timber will be replaced by
from temperate and northern zones, and the result will be a form of
environmental protectionism. Also to be expected are trade diversions and
associated economic costs, including a lower competitiveness of timber
Timber certification and its dubious impact on sustainable forestry
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
forestry management remains especially uncommon (Kiekens, et al. 1995; Poore
1989). The main markets for the two main exporters (Malaysia and Indonesia)
in Asia (Japan, South Korea, China, etc.), where there is no demand
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
countries, there is a great danger that timber certification be considered
substitute for financial and technical assistance. This fear was
by the "Forest Protocol" recently added to the Lom=82 IV Convention - the
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
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
certification comes from international trade issues, i.e. the need to avoid
tariff trade barriers. Its voluntary nature can however be called into
in domestic situations -- for example, in respect to forestry in countries
as Finland, Sweden and Canada. A voluntary instrument that affects only part
the sector can indeed be expected to be less effective than a compulsory
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
timber certification -- cannot be expected to play any significant role as
incentive toward sustainable forestry. The harmful effects of this measure,
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
demands of environmental NGOs, which greatly influence public opinion
certification they can perhaps slow the introduction of new domestic
regulations. Finally, by supporting certification, they have found an
argument in favor of limiting their forestry aid to developing countries.
despite the considerable difficulties and costs for implementing
in the highly fragmented European forests, EU decision makers seem about to
recognize "the importance of timber certification as a means of promoting
sustainable management of all types of forests" (EC, 1995).
Europe and tropical timber are the components of a sad case study in trade
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
trade measures to promote sustainable forestry, especially in the tropics.
(Jean-Pierre Kiekens lectures development economics at the "Universite libre
Bruxelles" and heads the consulting firm Environmental Strategies Europe,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Other
by Jean-Pierre Kiekens can be consulted at
European Commission. 1995. Draft terms of reference. European Working Group
Timber Certification. Brussels, European Commission.
Kiekens, J-P. 1995. Proposal of a Forest/Timber Protocol in the Lom
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
Ministry of Co-operation and the European Commission. Brussels
Poore, Duncan et al. 1989. No Timber Without Trees. Earthscan Publications=
Zolty, A. 1995. The ACP/EU Compromise: a Small Jewel of Inconsistency.
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/
Email (best way to contact)-> email@example.com
Subject: Malaysia & Bad Forestry Practicies
Forest Networking a Project of Ecological Enterprises
OVERVIEW & SOURCE by EE
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 WELCOMES MALAYSIAN GOVT RECOGNITION OF LOGGING
PROBLEM IN SOLOMONS
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
"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
"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
"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=
Email (best way to contact)-> firstname.lastname@example.org