EUTR enforcers claim growing competence

Latest evidence shows EUTR Competent Authorities increasingly strengthening enforcement capacity EU-wide, creating a more effective barrier to illegal wood and helping prepare the ground for successful impact of FLEGT-licensed timber. Mike Jeffree reports

Besides ensuring its due diligence systems are compliant, the European timber trade has had another preoccupation with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) since its 2013 introduction – ensuring uniform enforcement across all EU states. Weak national links in the EUTR chain, it is feared, could destabilise the wider framework barring illegal timber from the EU as, once in, products can cross borders unhindered. 

ETTF Secretary General André de Boer said it could also undermine the EUTR’s promise of a level playing field for timber market legality requirements across the EU. “If companies in one state face less onerous enforcement, they could gain competitive advantage,” he said. “It’s another reason the ETTF urges rigorous implementation EU-wide." 

The other key concern is that uneven EUTR application could impact supply and demand for FLEGT licensed products, when they come to market. “The trade attraction of FLEGT-licensed timber is that it’s already legally assured and exempt EUTR due diligence,” said Mr de Boer. “That benefit is undermined if the EUTR is not strictly enforced.” 

Common enforcement standards 

But, while no one pretends all implementation issues are resolved, the good news is that the EU's 28 national enforcement bodies, or Competent Authorities (CAs), are reported to be making accelerating progress towards achieving a common standard, often in close association with industry. The European Commission’s latest ‘scoreboard’ on the issue shows all states now on track in terms of enforcement obligations and en route to ‘fulfilment’ on outstanding issues. The CAs themselves also maintain that three years’ experience has strengthened enforcement capacity. Their knowledge of the international timber trade, industry engagement and access to intelligence are all significantly improved. They’re also increasingly cooperating with counterparts in other states.

Stella Boke of Latvia’s CA, the State Forest Service, said her organisation’s expertise “is growing with every EUTR check and discussion with other CAs”. “We’ve also established good, collaborative relations with the timber sector,” she said. “Issues remain reaching smaller companies, but we’re undertaking wider communications, providing operator guidelines, and advising businesses on compliance during checks.” 

The Nature Agency of Denmark’s Ministry of Agriculture has issued nine EUTR injunctions so far, working with the country’s Security and Intelligence Service. “We’ve developed a risk-based inspection plan, focusing on operators with big import volumes, high-value products and those from high-risk countries. But we also focus on small and medium-sized operators, so they know everyone is subject to inspection,” said the Agency’s Mads Brinck Lillelund. Underlining the importance it attaches to industry communications, the organisation has also set up an EUTR website – www.eutr.dk – in association with nine trade bodies. 

Michael Kearney, Enforcement Manager of Regulatory Delivery at the UK Department of Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said the UK CA, RD Enforcement, is now “far more experienced in the sectors concerned and the challenge of undertaking meaningful due diligence on challenging supply chains”. Its risk-based enforcement approach as a result has led to the issue of ‘numerous’ due diligence Notices of Remedial Action. It also produced a hardhitting report on poor compliance in the UK Chinese plywood trade. 

But, while clamping down on violations, the UK CA’s goal is also to help companies avoid them. “We aim to simplify regulation for business and support efforts towards compliance, so strong, collaborative relationships are key,” said Mr Kearney. “In fact, we often rely on examples of industry best practice in communications.”

The UK organisation also sees its role as helping educate supplier countries on EUTR and has visited China and Vietnam. In common with other CAs, co-operation and networking at Belgium’s Federal Public Service (FPS) also extends to NGOs and supplier country agencies. Like Germany’s BLE, one of the most active CAs in issuing injunctions, it is also hinting at increasing its staff. Vincent Naturel of France’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Environment also highlighted the “huge work” it puts into training inspectors, “the front line in EUTR enforcement”.

In common with other CA representatives, he stressed that, despite his organisation’s use of remedial orders to date, it would prosecute where required. “We take into account companies’ due diligence approach and willingness to improve,” he said. “But we’ll use penal sanctions for clear failures.” Looking forward, all CAs consulted confirmed plans to reinforce industry engagement and strengthen enforcement capacities further.

The latter includes following the likes of Germany, Denmark and the UK in introducing DNA-testing. Angelo Mariano of Italy’s Forestry Corporation also sees the arrival of FLEGT licensing not only being underpinned by a robustly and uniformly enforced EUTR, but also vice versa. Introduction of licensing in supplier countries where due diligence is a particular challenge could allow timber businesses and CAs to focus risk assessment resources elsewhere. “It could substantially solve problems linked to high-risk countries,” he said.