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Timber trade just want the facts

Dec 11, 2017 | FLEGT Market News, News

“We are often sceptical of things we don’t fully understand; tangible, factual information is key for demand-side trade audiences”, says UK TTF Head of Sustainability, Mike Worrell. IMM interviewed Mike following his visit to Indonesia in October 2017 to gather first-hand experience of how the Indonesian FLEGT-licensing system works.

IMM: What were your reasons for visiting Indonesia and assessing the FLEGT-licensing system in person?

Mike Worrell (MW): My primary motivation was to fully understand the system and to offer a different perspective into the next stages for FLEGT. The visit was part of a TTF project to support VPA countries through the process, notably Ghana, but peripherally Indonesia too. Our work here has been backed with funding from the UK Department for International Development earmarked for projects to support supplier countries improve legality performance.

IMM: What was your overall impression? And if you or TTF members have had any doubts or concerns about the Indonesian system – did what you learned in Indonesia help to put these doubts to rest?

MW: You can see that there is a clear process and system in place – with robust auditing and monitoring mechanisms established, the chain-of-custody process as well as the licensing system work smoothly. I would consider them as robust and a credit to years of hard work and dedication from all those involved in the multi stakeholder process.There has been concern in the trade that the system is overly complicated and I can see where this is coming from. It seems complicated at first – which in a way must be expected as it reflects a complex industry – but once you gain and understanding, it is does become simpler. I did come away with some concern notably regarding the due diligence system for timber imports, as there seems to be no clear mechanisms for dealing with non-compliance. In general I’d say Indonesia has now entered a new stage in the process: the licensing is there and they need to think about ways to talk about what they are doing in a way people understand. With EUTR and the core theme of risk, companies rightly are sceptical due to the risks and threats posed to their business. Only better information and greater understanding will help to alleviate concerns.

IMM: You’ve visited both Ghana and Indonesia to gather first-hand information on how licensing works and the robustness of the systems is ensured. Where do you see the particular strengths of the two very different systems?

MW: I don’t think these systems should be compared at all. They are developed in national multi-stakeholder processes and custom-tailored to the realities of each individual country and its forest and wood products industry. What works in one country wouldn’t necessarily work in the other, although of course there are complimentary elements. The multi-stakeholder approach is a unique feature of the FLEGT-VPA process and ensures implementation of the best possible system in each country.

IMM: What status does FLEGT-licensed timber have in the UK TTF’s Responsible Purchasing Policy (RPP)?

MW: The RPP accepts FLEGT licensing as compliant evidence of due diligence and we are providing members with guidance and information on the initiative. As that is written into Article 3 of the EUTR.

IMM: The UK is one of the few EU countries to date that accepts FLEGT-licensed timber in public procurement. Does the TTF support this decision?

MW: Implementing VPAs means legal reform and the accompanying installation of systems, processes and monitoring and control frameworks. The timber legality assurance systems that underpin VPAs also build in sustainability mechanisms, potentially enabling easier transition to certification. From our perspective, certification and FLEGT-licensing isn’t mutually exclusive but complementary. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, however they are not in competition, they are part of a much bigger picture which is to ensure forests remain as forests and that the timber industry remains a vital conduit to ensure this for the future. We don’t want situations created where the value of a forest is no longer as standing timber and instead the value is in other commodities. Regarding public procurement, both certification and FLEGT-licensing have specific qualities that deserve recognition. One of the key benchmarks of FLEGT and FLEGT-licensing success is increasing timber sales. After all, countries with a VPA want to grow market share and can only do this if they’re able to influence demand-side markets.

IMM: European respondents to IMM trade surveys frequently felt insufficiently informed about the VPA process and FLEGT licensing. Do you get the same impression when talking to your members and if yes, what should be done to rectify this situation, in your opinion?

MW: There is a lack of communication from the EU, taking into account the views and realities of the demand-side timber trade. It is concerning and it’s a shame trade federations are having to pick up demand-side communications and do so with information from the EU that’s often incomplete and not trade-targeted or specific. We’ve been more successful with communications around Ghana, where we’ve been more proactive; viewing and questioning the system ourselves, meeting all stakeholders and working with the FLEGT facilitator. We’re now able to work with tangible, factual information, which is incredibly important if you want demand-side trade audiences to make informed purchasing decisions. Working with Indonesia, we are now planning an exhibition to showcase FLEGT and the story behind it in Indonesia. The exhibition, at the Building Centre in London, will be held in February and March 2018.