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ENVIRONMENT: EU INSTITUTIONS ACCUSED OF USING ILLEGAL TIMBER IN BUILDING RENOVATION PROJECTS.

Reacting to the Greenpeace protest, the Commission indicated on May 11 that "the Commission is not itself responsible for renovation work on its buildings and has entrusted work on its Berlaymont building to the company Berlaymont 2000". The Commission spokesman recalls that the contract with Berlaymont 2000 requires it provide certificates on provenance of timber used in the building and to guarantee provenance from sustainable forests". He added that "when it takes delivery of the building, the Commission will require the company to provide all the relevant certificates concerning the origin of the timber used", indicating that it will meanwhile accept declarations by Berlaymont 2000 which claims to be "absolutely certain" that the timber used originates from "acceptable sources".

According to Greenpeace, some of the timber used in the renovation of Community buildings has been supplied by companies known for trading in timber from Indonesia's threatened rainforests. Timber discovered in the EESC building has been supplied by the companies RSK, IKMM and Mujur, all known to trade in timber from the last rainforests of Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sumatra. A link has also been established with AFR, a company shown to obtain timber from a protected tiger reserve. Plywood in the Berlaymont building has been observed as originating from AFR, Korindo and Mujur. "Not only does the EU allow the import of illegal wood into Europe, it is fuelling the trade in illegal and destructive timber through its own building projects", according to Gavin Edwards of Greenpeace International. The organisation is urging the EU to halt imports of illegal timber and clean up its own timber procurement practices. It has reiterated its call on the EU to adopt binding legislation to put an end to the trade in illegal timber.

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The European Commission's Action Plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT - (COM(03)0251) would ensure that wood exports are not illegal plundered from the world's priceless rainforests. The plan includes support for improved governance in wood-producing countries and voluntary partnerships with them to ensure only legally harvested timber enters the EU market. The planned voluntary timber certification system could lead to a global agreement to tackle the Euro 150 billion global forest product trade: once a country or regional bloc has signed up to the FLEGT pact, the EU will refuse to accept imported timber from that state unless it is certified as legal. The exporter country would benefit from a more credible image and increase tax revenues from valuable timber that might otherwise be smuggled onto the world's markets. The proposal targets South-East Asia, South America, Central Africa and Russia. The EU would help less developed countries improve their judiciary, police and military to help stop illegal logging.

The Commission proposal suggests:

* helping partner countries build systems to verify timber has been harvested legally;

* setting up a voluntary licensing scheme so partner countries issue a permit attesting to the legality of timber exported to the EU;

* a public procurement policy to guide contracting authorities;

* measures to prevent investment in activities that encourage illegal logging;

* encouraging private sector initiatives for good practice in the forest sector, including the use of voluntary codes of conduct;

* addressing the problems posed by use of revenues from illegally harvested timber to fund and prolong armed conflicts.

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A problem of governance in producer countries.

The Commission further emphasises that the problem is less one of imports than of governance in certain regions or countries, such as Asia, Russia, Central Africa and some South American countries (not least Brazil). It has therefore sought to implement its Action Plan (FLEGT) notably regarding the introduction of certification systems with partner countries on a voluntary basis to ensure their exports meet strict management and production requirements and EU environmental standards. In this context, a delegation comprising representatives of the Commission and three Member States is expected to leave for Indonesia this week to discuss the Law Enforcement, Government and Trade partnership.

The Commission insists it is no longer sufficient to raise barriers around the EU or to block imports from just one country. In Asia in particular, the Commission is working with all the countries concerned to ensure a regional response to the problem since it is clear that if it block trade with Indonesia, exports will simply transit through Malaysia. A regional approach has also been adopted in Central Africa, where the Commission launched a TFLED project in Cameroon, which already involves 35 counties.
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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:May 12, 2004
Words:738
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