Broad EU backing for legality assurance breakthrough

The ETTF Newsletter asked EU importers, end users, specifiers and retailers for views on the arrival of FLEGT licensing. Some questions and qualifications remain, but there’s widespread support for a legality assurance achievement that can be developed and built on

Thomas Burgess, Head of Secretariat, Timber Retail Coalition 

“Carrefour, IKEA, Kingfisher, and Marks & Spencer formed the Timber Retail Coalition to support measures for curbing illegally harvested timber and help ensure timber regulation is workable and effective. Achieving assurance of legality is a vital step towards proving sustainable management practices, so national commitments to implement a proof of legality system, like FLEGT licensing, should be encouraged. Effective EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) due diligence systems are now embedded at importers EU-wide. FLEGT licensing will additionally operationalize EUTR due diligence requirements, offering an automated ‘green lane’ for licensed products into the EU. FLEGT-licensed timber goods can also be a tool to communicate, businessto- business, that suppliers are delivering against EUTR requirements, while being complementary to retailers’ commitments to offer independently certified sustainable forest products.” 

Claudio Kaiser, CO-CEO Impan, German trader/plywood agent 

“Being the first country to achieve FLEGT licensing is a huge step for Indonesia and transforms the country’s image from bad guy to role model. That it has achieved full VPA implementation also shows other negotiating and implementing countries that it’s doable. FLEGT-licensed timber will be attractive in the market. There are still differences between individual company’s EUTR due diligence systems and it’s unclear which documents Competent Authorities will accept. FLEGT licences will remove all uncertainties. If consumers knew about them and what they meant, licences could also be used as a marketing tool.” 
Boris Zeisser, Natrufied Architects, Netherlands 

“As architects we’re attracted to tropical timber by its technical and aesthetic characteristics and we want to encourage its use in buildings. We employ it extensively in structural and interior applications and believe we can develop its potential further. But we and our clients must be sure it comes from legal, well-managed sources so, its use drives forest maintenance, not deforestation. If FLEGT licensing, a system backed by law in producer countries and supported by the EU, gives that added guarantee, we’re strongly in favour. Being exempt from EUTR due diligence, FLEGT-licensed timber also reduces administrative and logistical workload for EU importers sourcing legallyassured tropical timber, which should have supply and availability benefits for end users and specifiers like us.” 

Bruce Uhler, Environmental Ambassador, Kährs flooring, Sweden 

“We’re pleased that, thirteen years after the launch of FLEGT, first FLEGT licences are being issued. And it’s historically and environmentally appropriate that it’s in a tropical timber exporting country, as they’ve suffered most in terms of deforestation and discriminatory market avoidance from temperate areas. FLEGT licensing offers producers such as Kährs a purchasing opportunity to contribute to legal and sustainable tropical forest management, while meeting due diligence requirements of the EUTR. FLEGT must now continue to evolve, tackling issues such as agricultural deforestation and improving the lives of local forest populations even more. But it’s a great step forward, helping provide us with a unique, durable, sustainable, socially responsible and legal material – a win-win for people and planet.” 

Chris Sutton, Managing Director, James Latham, UK importer/distributor 

“FLEGT licences are a big statement to importers, traders, specifiers and users. They’re saying that you can specify and buy tropical timber, for which there’s still a big market, with added confidence. Indonesia has shown what can be done and we’ll actively promote their FLEGT timber products. Indonesian FLEGT licences will be complementary to sustainability certification too, as its SVLK timber legality assurance system also partly covers sustainability. It will also spur other FLEGT signatory suppliers to complete their VPAs when they see Indonesia’s increased sales. FLEGT licensing must be right first time, as NGOs, industry federations and trade, including James Latham, will be keeping a watchful eye on it. But it promises to convert a negative story on legality to a great positive.” 

Gijsbert Burgman, International Sales Director, Wijma, Netherlands hardwood producer/ importer 

“It’s been a long-haul to get here, but the arrival of FLEGT licensed timber in Europe will be welcomed by importers. Not only will it save them time and money on EUTR due diligence, but by helping combat illegal timber, it will also ensure fairer competition in the market for legitimate suppliers and producers and help repair the damaged image of the tropical timber sector. FLEGT-licensed timber is not a guarantee of sustainability, however, and we must guard against the risk that it leads to sustainablysourced certified timber losing market share. It is important too that we encourage adoption of such initiatives in markets worldwide, including the Middle East, India, Asia and Africa, where growth of consumption of tropical timber can be expected.” 

Katerina Germanis, Group Environmental Compliance Manager, Brooks Bros UK importer/distributor 

“Let’s be clear, FLEGT and FLEGT licensing are about legality. Whilst social and environmental considerations are covered through their multi-stakeholder processes in the signatory country, they don’t necessarily equate to international standards of sustainable forest management. That’s why we still see great value in FSC certification, which provides responsible stewardship assurance throughout the supply chain. Issues of concern also remain with Indonesia’s SVLK timber legality assurance scheme, which forms its FLEGT timber legality assurance system, such as potential declaration of conformity loopholes. But we believe there’s a solid framework to facilitate continuous improvement and hope these gaps will be closed. And the arrival of much-awaited FLEGT licensed timber is an industry milestone. FLEGT is a legal sourcing tool for importers that has delivered measurable improvements in Indonesian forest governance, by no means a small feat.” 

Peter Gijsen, Sustainability Manager, BAM Bouw, Netherlands construction group 

“In line with objectives to become climate and resource positive, Royal BAM group policy is to use only certified sustainable timber. Procurement of sustainable tropical timber, especially, can help reduce climate change, stimulate forest certification and disincentivise conversion. Legal timber isn’t the same as sustainably sourced, but as a responsible international construction company, we also want to comply with national and international laws, so purchase of legally harvested material is an essential starting point. Being legally enforced by the producer country, which certified timber isn’t, FLEGT licensing offers customers added assurance in this area. It could also, we believe, underpin certification and even make it easier for producers.” 

Peter Pieper, Director, FEPCO, Belgian plywood specialists 

“That politically and geographically complex Indonesia has achieved this should encourage all tropical wood producers. But whether others follow its example will also depend on its success from here. It’s nice to be praised, but eventually the efforts and investment in FLEGT have to bring returns in volume, turnover, jobs and real income. However, the Indonesian wood industry will gain recognition and credibility and benefit from being first to issue FLEGT licences. The confirmation of its efforts against illegal logging, and acknowledgement from EU authorities are perfect marketing tools and publicity and should give Indonesian products a competitive edge. NGOs will keep an eye on developments, no doubt, but they also have an interest in making this a success story. At FEPCO we see FLEGT licensing as the best thing that could happen for the tropical timber industry and we’ll certainly be supportive.” 

Armand Stockmans, Director, Somex, Belgian hardwood importer 

“We already have a good due diligence system so the immediate beneficial impact to us is difficult to see. Buyers who left the [tropical] timber market to avoid EUTR due diligence may also return, increasing competition. But it’s good the FLEGT initiative was taken in terms of awakening more producer countries to the need to improve forest management and improving tropical timber’s image. Attitudes of NGOs have also changed, with recognition of the need for forests to be economically as well as sustainably managed to avoid conversion to other uses. Hopefully the example Europe has set will also now be followed by the rest of the world and perhaps NGOs will focus more on driving industries like pvc and aluminium to meet equivalent standards.” 

Iain McIlwee, Chief Executive, British Woodworking Federation 

“From the perspective of the UK joinery industry and furniture manufacturers this development and associated work to improve the legality, ethicacy and ultimately the sustainability of our supply chain is welcome. A recent UN report emphasised that it is vital to integrate forests and wood products in climate change strategies and intrinsic to this is ensuring all of us in the timber and associated industries support effective forest management in key exporter markets, such as Indonesia. I know just how hard the UK Timber Trade Federation, their members and the UK Government have worked on this and for me it is another huge step forward in our collective efforts to use wood and forests wisely.”