EU Divided on Plans to Curb Illegal Timber Trade
BRUSSELS EU members are divided over a European Commission plan to crack down on the lucrative illegal timber trade by making exporters prove their wood is not from endangered rainforests, officials said on Tuesday.
EU farm ministers were discussing a voluntary timber certification system that might lead to a global agreement to clean up the $150 billion global forest product trade.
A key part of Europe's battle against illegal logging is to stop laundered profits being diverted into organised crime.
One way that the Commission, the EU's executive, wants to achieve this is to ensure imports are accompanied by paperwork showing the timber comes from approved forests.
Some EU governments disagree with the idea, and this may delay the project for about one year -- especially as exporting countries would have to agree to certifying their products, and these bilateral arrangement have yet to be negotiated.
Under the plan, once a country or regional bloc has signed up to such an agreement, the EU will refuse to accept imported timber from that state unless it is certified as legal.
"The council (of ministers) seemed to be fairly split," one EU diplomat said. "We may see some progress on this by the start of the UK presidency (of the EU), in July 2005," he said.
Seven countries opposed the certification scheme -- timber producers France, Finland and Austria, plus Britain, Denmark, Sweden and Slovakia.
"The countries that are opposed fear that a certificate of origin would increase their administrative burden, and also say that it wouldn't be efficient," an EU official told reporters.
Environmental groups estimate European imports of illegally felled timber are worth 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) a year, and say the trade can lead to more forest fires and poaching.
The EU is an important market for both legal and illegally harvested timber entering international trade. It is the largest importer of plywood and sawnwood from Africa and the second largest from Asia, as well as a key market for Russia.