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ATIBT lays out action plans for tropical timber

At its January think tank International Tropical Timber Technical Association  (ATIBT) members decided on four activity ‘axes’ and discussed proposed actions and objectives under each to grow the international market for tropical timber.  However, the organisation has said that it has decided for the time being that its Fair & Precious tropical timber branding campaign will only commend certification as a tropical timber procurement criteria, and not FLEGT licensing.

The ATIBT laid out a range of goals at the meeting in Nogent sur Marne, France, including enhancing tropical timber’s market reputation, communicating more closely with specifiers and other market influencers, evaluating the value of forests ecosystems services, and producing a catalogue of certified tropical forest products and services.

The meeting involved 65 delegates, including forestry, consultancies, research institutes, NGOs, donors, international organizations, and auditors.  They divided into workshops to finalise the axes activities and selected action leaders to head each one.

Axis 1 is focused on improving the image of tropical timber in Europe. This includes liaison with local authorities in supplier countries in Africa, developing a ‘made in Africa’ logo and considering an ATIBT rebrand. 

It was also proposed to communicate more directly with specifiers on the benefits of certification, targeting the Fair & Precious (F&P) campaign at municipal authorities and drawing connections between the campaign and sustainable development goals.  A press trip to supplier countries and cooperation with the Forest Conservation Alliance were also discussed.

Included in axis 2, Exploring new markets for tropical timber, were developing life cycle assessment in the tropical timber sector, promoting lesser-known timber species and liaising with architects and schools of architecture, particularly on the use of tropical timber in public projects.

The third axis had previously comprised two areas of action, but the meeting decided to merge them into one under the headline Give back value to the forest, enhance ecosystem services and certification.  Activities comprised measuring certified forest ecosystem services value, increasing public awareness of their benefits and developing the forest products and services catalogue.  Another goal is to calculate the added value of certification and to press for FSC certification to constitute a ‘fast track’ in meeting the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation. Part of the action will also be to work with national tropical country leaders in evaluating their contributions to sustainable development goals.  Further proposals included developing business plans for certified concessions, an ‘online brokerage platform’ for community forests and software for tropical timber quality monitoring.

The final axis focused on collaboration of tropical forest management with Asian partners.  This comprised developing a training resource for Asian operators highlighting the ‘difference between legality and certification’ and coordinating with the Global Green Supply Chain organisation, a body including the ITTO and various Chinese industry organisations.  Other targets included work to convince Asian businesses of the value of certification, strengthening links between the ATIBT and China and organising the next Congo Basin Forest Partnership meeting in Shanghai.

No specific deadlines were reported for the various actions decided at the meeting, but the ATIBT said there would be follow-ups on their progress in coming months.

ATIBT managing director Benoît Jobbé-Duval told the IMM that integration of the FLEGT VPA initiative and FLEGT licensing into the F&P campaign had been separately discussed, however the decision was that ‘for now the brand will continue to support certification’.  At the same time, ATIBT felt that the VPA process could be better promoted in producing countries. “Many positive effects could be realised if the process and the many opportunities for improvement it offers were better understood,” he said.

This does suggest the need for more connected thinking, specifically acknowledgment from European organisations that FLEGT needs greater recognition in the market, through initiatives like F&P, in order to encourage more active engagement in producer countries and to provide positive incentives.

During 2019, IMM is undertaking a comprehensive survey of European timber promotion campaigns in order to assess the level of recognition of FLEGT licensing. Specifically, IMM is asking those that do not acknowledge the advances in forest governance and management inherent to FLEGT licensing to explain their rationale.

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