Certification, Licencing and Trade Regulations for Wood Products

by Michael Buckley MPhil FIWSc

Decades ago, concern for the future of rain forests was the centre of a straight fight between environmental NGOs and the timber industry, with consumers left confused on the side-lines. Today all stakeholders are involved in forestry and wood product issues with governments taking an increasing role. This regular bi-monthly column will address the many issues and systems now engaged in protecting forests and giving assurances to all stakeholders, including consumers.

Legal Sustainable & Recycled FSC

Signage at IFEX furniture show in Indonesia in 2016
The eminent Professor of Forestry at the University of British Columbia, Hamish Kimmins* – a keen environmentalist and author of ‘Balancing Act’ – once said “The environmentalists have done us all a great favour by sounding the warning bell. The problem is they are like the person who spots the fire, calls the fire truck and then stands by the side of the road waiting to highjack it in order to put out the fire themselves.” We must leave the solution of deforestation to the forestry experts he concluded. Much has changed since then. Now we have FSC, PEFC, SVLK, MYTLAS, EUTR, Lacey and so on. At the start there were extremists who wanted to control consumers. Friends of the Earth in UK ran a campaign to persuade consumers to boycott wood for windows and use PVC instead; until they realised the error of abandoning wood - a fully renewable resource - in favour of an unsustainable, polluting petro-chemical derivative drilled from the earth. They then cancelled the campaign in favour of responsibly managed forest products – wooden windows. In the meantime professionals and consumers have become key stakeholders although many remain confused as to the truth about sustainable forestry.

In Asia there are different issues concerning forestry than in many other global regions. Tropical, semitropical and temperate species are grown both naturally and increasingly in plantations. Trade with developed countries, imposing increasingly strict regulations, is important but so is the fast-growing intra-Asian trade in wood products and fibre where environmental concerns and regulations are still only in development. There are many misconceptions among manufacturers and traders about the assurances of legality and sustainability, which need to be unravelled.

Certification of sustainability
For assuring sustainability, in short summary, there are two main forest certification systems that share the same objective but apply a different approach. The first to be established, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), is more well-known, well-funded and works as the governing body for its system applied to all countries.

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is the larger system endorsing national forest certification systems. Every national system is developed by local stakeholders, ensuring the national context is taken into account and sovereignty is respected. National systems are assessed to ensure they are in compliance with international criteria and standards before achieving PEFC endorsement. Only about 10% of the world’s forests are certified, of which PEFC accounts for 60%. Both FSC and PEFC systems offer Chain of Custody certification of products from forest to consumer. In addition to increasing the transparency of wood flows, Chain of Custody certification allows a logo or claim on product.

Legislation on Legality
As for legality, in Asia much has been achieved partly driven by the Lacey Act Amendment in USA and the EU Timber Regulations (EUTR) in Europe, both of which seek by slightly different rules to outlaw the use of and import of illegally harvested and traded timber. Capacity of export licencing and monitoring has been the main stumbling block slowing progress for Asian countries negotiating Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs). Only now has Indonesia finally achieved full implementation of its VPA after many years since agreement in principle. Japan and Australia are going down the same path of requiring due diligence for companies importing wood products, but it is not just developed countries legislating. In South America a ‘Roundtable’ in Lima recently focused on legality and trade promotion, co-hosted by the International Wood Products Association (IWPA) from USA and Peru’s Asociacion de Exportadores Comite de Madera e Industrias de la Madera (ADEX) to develop international markets for legally-sourced wood products from Peru. In Africa it is reported the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has signed agreements with four institutions including IWPA Overseas Member the Ghana Forestry Commission to build capacity in Ghana for the management and exportation of timber. The agreements will support opportunities and capacity for small-holders and artisanal millers in the production of legal timber to comply with the Ghana’s VPA with the EU which will then lead to the issuance of EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) licenses. That will allow Ghana’s wood products to be exported to the EU without additional due diligence requirements under the EUTR. From these examples one can anticipate a global movement for increased legislation in forest product trade.

Other Approaches
There are many other issues of climate change and carbon impact in which forests can play a major role, so they are being addressed with initiatives to provide clarity and transparency to customers of forest products. One such is the American Hardwood Environmental Profile (AHEP) which is now available for every individual shipment of material showing all its environmental impacts from forest to delivery. Today there is a widening of concern by addressing the complex issue of the ‘landscape approach’ to sustainable forestry which was the subject of much discussion at the recent PEFC Forest Certification Week in Indonesia.

*Professor Emeritus James Peter (Hamish) Kimmins, C.M., Ph.D., D.Sc.(hon) has been appointed to the Order of Canada, in recognition of his contributions as an ecologist promoting environmental sustainability in forest management.