Logging approaches key to sustainable forest management

 Logging methods are key to the success of sustainable forest management, according to a new study of forestry in Brazil. In ‘Litter and soil biogeochemical parameters as indicators of sustainable logging in Central Amazonia’ by Dr Barbara Bomfim and colleagues, the impact of different logging approaches on a range of forest health indicators are compared. These include canopy cover, seedling density, forest litter and soil composition and compaction. 

In one forest operation, foresters use pre-winching, where logs are hydraulically winched with a metal cable by a track-type tractor on to the skid trails, which are permanent and used for numerous felling cycles. “The skidder also does not transit in the forest, allowing natural regeneration to take place while avoiding the soil compaction caused by skidder transit,” said Dr Bomfim in an article on the Voices from developing countries website.

In the second forest operation studied, by contrast, skid trails are relatively temporary and  not properly opened. “Here, the skidder follows orange ribbons placed on small trees by forest workers to indicate the best route to access a felled log,” said Dr Bomfim. “This is repeated for every  felled tree.” She added that, with this approach, soil compaction caused by the movements of the skidder, which at the first site is limited to trails only, affects a wider area of forest. This can adversely affect natural regeneration and subsequently growth of marketable tree species necessary for economic viability.
Dr Bomfim concludes that ‘future forests need to be increasingly better managed’ and the effects of different logging approaches studied further.

“Assessing and improving sustainable forest management plans in tropical forests is a necessity to ensure their maintenance and functioning in a changing climate,” she said. “Management must consider both the short and long-term impacts of the logging system they use.”

ATIBT Certification Commission tackles key topics in first meeting

The ATIBT Certification Commission, set up earlier this year to track, discuss and provide input into developments within certification, held its first meeting on June 16.

The certification commission launched in February. Its stated objectives are to:

  • Monitor and report on forest certification in the Congo Basin;
  • To advise ATIBT members and answer queries on certification implementation;
  • To participate in consultation and decision-making processes in the development of new certification standards and requirements;
  • To participate in and report on certification events;
  • To identify and monitor complementary initiatives to forest certification, such as FLEGT and REDD+;
  • To feed into discussions by ATIBT forest-industry, marketing and scientific commissions.

The Certification Commission’s aim is also to be involved in monitoring and analysis of legality certification schemes, monitoring France’s National Strategy against Import Deforestation (SNDI) and exploring opportunities for ecosystem services payment (PES).

The June 16 meeting was online and attended by 15 participants, including producers donors, and representatives of certification schemes and trade bodies. Discussions covered the Commission’s roadmap, with the outcome that the relationship with national competent authorities in application of the EUTR and territorial certification were added to its areas of focus. Participants also discussed certification studies by France’s Scientific and Technical Forest Council relating to the SNDI, the debate on possible links between FLEGT and private certification schemes and a study on impacts of application of FSC Intact Forest Landscape (IFL) requirements. There was also update on FSC national schemes, highlighting that those of the Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Cameroon are currently under FSC assessment.

The ATIBT Certification Commission is set to hold two main meetings a year, with side events convened to address specific topics. It is open to other stakeholders to join.

For more information contact: caroline.duhesme@atibt.org

Indonesia maintains legality assurance and grows EU market share

The subsequently abandoned proposal for Indonesia to drop compulsory provision of legality assurance with all timber exports potentially risked its FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU and UK. Now latest analysis shows the country increasing its lead as their biggest tropical wood products supplier.

The Indonesia trade ministry had proposed a new regulation axing the legality assurance obligation on timber exporters, so they would only have to provide it at customers’ request. It presented the step as a means to boost trade through the Covid-19 pandemic. While the EU would continue to have required its Indonesian imports be FLEGT-licensed, there were fears the move would have threatened Indonesia’s VPA as it requires exports to all destinations to meet the same legality assurance standard.

The EU and UK, plus their national timber trade bodies, made strong representations to the Indonesian government against the change. Subsequently, on April 30 Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya stated that the new trade ministry regulation would be suspended and that adherence to the country’s SVLK timber legality assurance system would continue to be mandatory for exporting all forestry industry products. She also announced new funding to support the SVLK certification process at micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). “The main thing is Indonesia still wants to maintain SVLK as one of our major investments for the long-term interests of sustainable forestry businesses, especially MSMEs, as well as for the benefit of our forests,” Minister Nurbaya said.

In its latest market analysis, the FLEGT Independent Market Monitor (IMM) said the continuing rise of tropical timber exports from suppliers outside the process, raises questions about the benefits of FLEGT licensing in overall competitiveness in the EU and UK market. However, it notes that in 2019, there were ‘positive gains for Indonesian FLEGT-licensed timber’ in the EU and UK. While their overall tropical wood imports (including furniture) rose 2.2% to $4.56 billion – the highest level since 2007– those from Indonesia declined in volume, but increased 5% in value to $998 million. “Taken together this implies a positive improvement in the unit value of imports from Indonesia, which were focused more on furniture than lower value wood products during the year,” states the IMM. “Indonesia accounted for 21.9% of the total value of EU27+UK tropical wood-product import value in 2019, up from 21.3% the previous year.”

Protected and certified forest complementary in conversation

Proximity of human settlements and roads to tropical forests, as well as sustainable management, is key in the maintenance of their biodiversity and wider ecosystem services, according to a new study. It also concludes that certified sustainably managed forest can complement protected areas in terms of conservation.

‘Conservation value of tropical forests: Distance to human settlements matters more than management in Central Africa’ was undertaken by Simon Lhoest of the University of Liege – Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech. The latter has worked with ATIBT and is involved in the DynAfFor biodiversity conservation project in Central Africa. The report is based on research in south-east Cameroon, looking at the impacts of land use on forest biodiversity and provision of ecosystem services to local populations. The biodiversity of a protected reserve was compared to that of an FSC-certified logging concession, managed by Pallisco, and three community forests under the stewardship of local people. Inventories of mammal and dung beetle populations were used as biodiversity indicators.

The research concluded that proximity to villages and roads resulted in community forests having the lowest species richness. These areas were subject to high hunting pressure, which had a negative impact on fauna populations. Most endangered mammals actually disappeared and others in the areas also had a lower body mass. Biodiversity was stronger in both the protected area and the FSC-certified concession. At the same time, the report found ‘high spatial turnover’ of species between these forest areas, meaning species moved in and out of them. From this it concluded that conservation initiatives should work across many interconnected sites in order to protect the full species range, as opposed to focusing on isolated areas.

“High turnover for both mammal and dung beetle species in our results supports applying conservation initiatives over a large number of different sites, with a priority on protected and remote areas of high biodiversity,” states the report. It also says that production forest around protected areas can act as a ‘crucial buffer’ in species protection. “If strictly protected forest patches are not connected with production forests in a larger forest matrix, no conservation intervention is likely to be sufficient,” it says. “Connected to protected areas, production forests offer the chance to conserve many ecosystem services, functions, and species. They cover a high proportion of forest lands and show lower opportunity costs than protected areas.”

Read the full report here.

Certified tropical timber delivers carbon benefits

Using certified tropical timber results in lower carbon impacts than using not just more energy intensive non-wood materials, but also non-certified tropical timber. In fact, a new report says, taking the range of factors into account, from materials substitution to the avoidance of forest degradation entailed in its production, the volume of certified tropical timber imported into the EU every year may represent millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions saved.

‘Carbon footprint of tropical timber’ is one of the first efforts to estimate the carbon benefits of certified tropical wood and was commissioned by IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative from analyst Rupert Oliver of Forest Industries Intelligence.

The report references a range of previous studies and focuses on three core topics; the long-term effects of tropical timber’s felling cycle; life cycle analysis – that is the environmental impacts associated with the material from harvest, through various stages of processing and use; and the potential for carbon emission reductions resulting from using certified tropical timber instead of alternative non-wood industrial materials.

It acknowledges that calculating a precise carbon footprint for certified tropical timber is currently very difficult. Certification schemes do not collect the necessary data and, it says, scaling one-off timber operation assessments globally involves a ‘great deal of uncertainty’.  Within this context, however, the report aims to present a ‘rough model for carbon accounting, with the expectation this will evolve as more data becomes available’.

It looks at the relative carbon impacts of reduced impact logging (RIL), which is associated with certified forest management, and conventional logging (CL) used in non-certified forest. It is estimated that forty years after harvest using reduced impact logging, which minimises damage to the forest in the way trees are felled and logs extracted, forest carbon stocks are back to pre-harvest levels or higher. But using conventional logging and assuming two ‘premature re-entry’ harvests, which would not be allowed in certified forest,  ‘carbon stocks continue to decline until all merchantable trees are harvested’.

On life cycle assessment, the report says that comprehensive analysis by the American Hardwood Export Council for US hardwoods can, with some assumptions, be translated to tropical timber. Using this approach, it is estimated that the ‘gate to gate’ global warming potential (over the standard 100 year calculation period) of light red meranti is 601 kg CO2 per tonne, excluding biogenic carbon. The equivalent figure for steel, or concrete, for example, would be many multiples of that amount.

Focusing further on substitution of other materials by wood, the report cites sources giving averages of between 1.2kg to 2kg of CO2 emissions saved per kg of other industrial material substituted.

It concludes by urging further research into its topic and development of a single harmonized life cycle assessment methodology to assess the carbon footprint of certified tropical wood products. Ultimately, it maintains, this has potential to grow their production and sales.
“More accurate systems of carbon accounting will drive demand and financing for certified tropical timber, and help preserve the long-term environmental and social health of forest regions,” it says.

Click here for the full report.

Covid-19 crisis has multiple timber trade impacts

Members of the STTC Technical Committee report the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in radically reduced timber trading across Europe. Many companies are temporarily closing or curtailing operations, pushing back orders and asking for longer payment terms. Impacts of the health crisis are also reported from China and African supplier countries.

The STTC Technical Committee, which comprises the European Timber Trade Federation, national trade associations, the FSC, PEFC and ATIBT, held a remote meeting to address the crisis and share experience.

The UK TTF said it was busy with member enquiries, particularly on government grants to enable companies to pay furloughed personnel during temporary shutdown. Some importers, distributors and merchants have suspended business. Others are operating at much reduced levels. Some demand continues from the UK building sector, with work on construction sites allowed within new health and safety rules. DIY sales are also holding up, which is attributed to consumers undertaking repair and refurbishment projects while off work. Importers say they have asked overseas suppliers to push back orders by 30 to 60 days but there is still concern about the build-up of landed stocks at ports, with companies unable to accept cargoes as their own storage is full.

German trade federation GD Holz said wholesalers had not at the time been significantly affected. How long this would last depended on continuing construction activity. However, for small to medium sized timber enterprises the situation was described as ‘catastrophic’. It was suggested that, to provide some relief, they might adopt the strategy of the electronics sector, allowing consumers to pre-order and pick up goods. Many German retail and other consumer-facing businesses were at a full stop, but DIY outlets were allowed to open in some parts of the country and hardware stores continued to serve B2B customers.

An earlier report on the Fair&Precious (F&P) website stated that Netherlands importers had sufficient stocks for the short term and ports and road transport had been designated key sectors and continued to operate.  The Netherlands Timber Trade Association also reported the DIY sector continuing to trade well. Overall timber trade sales, however, are expected to be down through the summer. The NTTA also told the STTC Newsletter that as of April 15, the Dutch building sector was still working subject to health and safety restrictions. However the number of construction projects was decreasing, with forecasts of a 50% fall in new home building. At the same time, activity in the renovation sector has reduced by 80%. The pandemic was disrupting timber supplies to the Netherlands from the rest of Europe and Malaysia and, while imports from Africa were ‘reasonably normal’, they were also expected to decrease. Plywood and other panel products were in increasingly short supply.

French trade body Le Commerce du Bois said the picture was mixed in France. Merchants were impacted first as construction and manufacturing customers shut down, importers followed. Subsequently, however, most merchants are reported to have reopened with much reduced personnel. Timber end user industries and importers largely remained closed.

The situation in Spain was described by trade association AEIM as disastrous. Members had postponed contracts and shipments, with construction and other customer sectors in shutdown. Some suppliers to parts of the joinery sector, however, were still active. And according to the F&P Covid-19 report, wood was still coming into ports as normal, although there were ‘difficulties for companies withdrawing goods’.

The latest Market Report from the International Tropical Timber Organisation includes a supplier country survey showing widespread disruption of the tropical wood sector by Covid-19. The industry was being affeced by both national measures to curb spread of disease and a drop in export demand. At the time of the report, Ghana was not in total lockdown, but regional controls were impacting timber businesses. Mills in Cameroon were not operating. In Malaysia movement control orders had resulted in a ‘drastic slowdown’ in forestry and timber sectors, while 76% of respondents to a timber business survey by Vietnamese trade body Viforest said they had suffered ‘pandemic damage’.  In Indonesia fall-off in demand had led to 280,000 furniture industry job losses.

According to a 15 April report from the China Timber and Wood Product Distribuion Association (CTWPDA), Chinese timber imports are set to decline 10-20% due to contraction in export demand. Already some imported material destined for re-export as finished wood products has been diverted to domestic consumption. However, the latter has also been hit by the pandemic, particularly in the ‘homes and living sector’. The CTWPDA reported disruption in timber supply from a range of sources, but said that the country had sufficient imported material to last two months.

The Fair&Precious website has a special report giving further information on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the timber sectors of Europe, Africa and China.

As is the case in many regions where tropical timber is produced, Northern Congo lacks coordinated and federal support. In the fight against COVID-19, forest company INTERHOLCO is currently fundraising to buy essential, life-saving medical equipment to upgrade the capacity of the hospital that the company manages. This is located in the remote village of Ngombé (in the heart of the forest, as shown here on Google), where employees live with their families forming a community of 10.000 people, 1.000 km away from the capital Brazzaville. To learn more and to support – every bit matters! – see INTERHOLCO’s fundraising campaign here, and for regular updates follow the company on Linked-In or check out their news page.

Pressure mounts against Indonesian legality assurance move

Lobbying against a proposal for Indonesia to abandon obligatory legality assurance licensing for timber exports is increasing in intensity. Pressure is growing both inside and outside the country for the move, which was conceived  by the Indonesian Ministry of Trade, to be abandoned.

Under the Ministry of Trade ruling, due to be implemented on May 27, timber exporters would no longer have to provide SVLK legality assurance documentation with export shipments, although could continue to do so if foreign customers require them. As things currently stand, Indonesian exporters are obliged to provide such documentation in the form of V-legal licences to non-EU export customers, and FLEGT Licences to those in the EU.

As the EU requires Indonesian imports to be backed by FLEGT Licences, they will continue to be supplied. The concern, however, is that abandoning the obligation on companies to provide V-Legal documentation to exports elsewhere could still impact Indonesia’s FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the EU, as it requires that an equal standard of legality assurance is applied to all exports.

The Indonesian Ministry of Trade said its proposed change to the rules was part of a Covid-19 pandemic trade stimulation package. However, NGOs and trade media maintain that long-term lobbying by furniture and craft trade association HIMKI for the legality assurance obligation to be lifted is also involved.

Latest news at the time of publication was that the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar had sent a letter to the president, copying all other related ministers. She strongly defended the current Indonesian SVLK timber legality assurance system and urged others in government to follow the spirit of the presidential regulation that ratified the FLEGT VPA in 2014. She also asked permission for related ministries to engage formally with the EU to find a solution.

The STTC and European woodworking industries federation CEI-Bois have both written to the Indonesian embassy to Brussels urging his government to maintain timber legality assurance standards. Similar letters have also been sent to their respective embassies by eight national EU timber trade federations, plus trade bodies in Australia and the USA.

Some leading European importers have also already said they will reconsider buying from Indonesia if the new Ministry of Trade regulation goes through. One described it as a ‘watering down of Indonesia’s commitment to combat illegal timber’.

In his letter to the Indonesian embassy to the UK, David Hopkins, Chief Executive of the UK Timber Trade Federation, wrote: “The TTF is a strong ally of Indonesian timber trade and we do hope this will continue, but the UK trade will need reassurance that the robust SVLK measures you currently have in place will be upheld.”

Read the European STTC letter to Indonesian Embassy

Debate on FSC intact forest landscape protection continues

Comments from FSC and forestry operators and their representative bodies, including the ATIBT, indicate that there is still work to do to achieve consensus on intact forest landscape (IFL) protection in certified natural forests, and the issue promises to be central to discussions at the next FSC General Assembly. All agree on the need to ensure preservation of IFLs and the biodiversity and habitats they support, while at the same time maintaining the commercial viability of forest and timber businesses and the livelihoods they provide. But differences of opinion persist on what that balance between business and environmental interests looks like.

At the heart of the discussion is FSC Motion 65. This was approved in 2014 and stipulates that 80% of designated IFLs in certified natural forest concessions are protected. It became a so-called interim FSC rule in 2017, for subsequent adaptation and transposing into each country’s FSC national standard, but has been a subject of continued debate. The reason it is back in the news now, it is reported, is because stakeholders want to make it high on the agenda at the next FSC General Assembly (GA), slated for October this year, but now postponed to 2021 due to Covid 19.

ATIBT Managing Director Benoît Jobbé-Duval said that the issue had also become more urgent because ‘companies are arriving at the limits of their IFLs and beginning their exploitation’. It is in the spotlight again too because of the imminent release of several reports, into the social environmental and economic impacts of Motion 65 in the primary areas affected, the Amazon, Canada, Congo Basin and Russia. These were commissioned as the result of FSC Motion 34, which was backed by the ATIBT and passed at the 2017 FSC GA.

The first study, by Form International into the impacts of Motion 65 in the Congo Basin, which is due out shortly, “must assess whether conservation of IFLs (at 80%) endangers the logging companies, and their future commitment to certification, with, of course, the social and environmental consequences,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. The outcome, he added, will be proposal of an IFL ‘conservation percentage acceptable to companies’. ATIBT backs last year’s proposal from the Congo Basin FSC regional working group (RWG). This recommends that 20% of IFLs within certified concessions should be conserved rather than 80%.

“We agree on protecting IFLs in general, but it must be at the commercially viable level,”  said Mr Jobbé-Duval. “It’s important to note that certified companies already put 20% of concessions under conservation through their own procedures, so additional protection of 20% of IFLs is significant.” He also highlighted that only 1.5% of IFLs in the Congo lie within concessions. “Our aim is to find solutions for better protection of external IFLs as well,” he said.

In an interview with the STTC/Fair&Precious Newsletter, FSC Executive Director Kim Carstensen said he recognised Congo Basin concession operators’ concerns. “FSC certified companies are already doing a lot for the environment and their social performance is top class. At the same time,  they are operating in a very difficult business environment. European markets are weak and also impose [due diligence] requirements, there’s competition from Chinese companies, port blockages, poor access to capital, and increasing pressure on supply of more popular commercial species and difficulties in moving to other harvestable species,” he said. “So it’s already difficult to maintain a viable forest business in the Congo, then the FSC puts what are seen as another set of restrictions on the way companies operate, so their concerns are understandable.” However, he added, while not yet the perfect solution, Motion 65 should be viewed as ‘a route into the future’. “It’s crucially important that forest operators understand the mindset shift happening in the world and find a way of working that is acceptable in a time where climate and biodiversity crises and other environmental crises have resulted in a different set of expectations on use of natural forests,” he said. “Businesses must be seen to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.”

He recognised that Motion 65 ‘does not have all the answers’, but said it ‘pointed in the direction we need to look’. “Of course we need these forests to maintain an economic relevance. If they don’t  they will be taken by some other interest; converted into agriculture or just used for wildlife poaching,” he said. “But at the same time businesses need to be seen to have environmental viability as well. Finding that balance is the real challenge.” Mr Carstensen said ATIBT, Congo concession holders and other FSC members had ‘every right’ to put forward new proposals on Motion 65 and FSC IFL policy and that the impact study resulting from Motion 34 should provide valuable information for taking the issue forward. “It will create a new basis for discussion of how we [protect IFLs] in a fashion that works for the countries, for the concessions and for the environmental interests of the forests,” he said, adding that Congo operators concerns about FSC IFL rules were also shared by those in the Amazon.

FSC also underlines that there is ‘country specificity’ in the way that interim rules, such as those on IFL protection, are implemented in FSC national standards. “The national standard for the Republic of the Congo allows concession operators to work 50% of IFLs,” said Mr Carstensen. ‘’Other standards are being developed for Gabon and Cameroon, and there is also the prospect of one for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

He assured FSC members that Motion 65 and IFLs would be a ‘top tier’ topic of discussion at the next General Assembly, which is still slated for Bali, with the date in 2021 to be announced early June at the latest. “It can’t be business as usual as that won’t be accepted in today’s world. And we believe that FSC certification, including measures to protect IFLs and other high conservation value areas, is the way forward for businesses in the Congo Basin and elsewhere,” said Mr Carstensen. “But our message is that we hear and understand the concerns of concession holders. We need to find ways together to work through this;  [ensuring] sustainable forest management is both viable and part of the solution to climate and biodiversity crises, and I think we can.”

IFLs in the Congo and Amazon

In the Congo Basin, 1.3% of all IFLs are situated in FSC-certified forest management units (FMU) and around 25% are located in protected areas. In total, 15% to 20% of all IFLs are present in managed forests and more than 50% areas are found outside protected areas or managed forests.[1]

The situation in over 300 million hectares of natural forest in the Brazilian Amazon is similar. In 2017, 0.5% of natural forest and 0.25% of the IFL area was located in FSC-certified FMUs. [2]

Given protection of a minimum of 50% of the IFLs within a certified FMU, the FSC would be employing its systems to address effectively 0.7% of the IFLs in the Congo Basin and 0.13% of the natural forest in the Brazilian Amazon (status 2017).

[1] FORM, 2020, DRAFT and, Calculated from Global Forest Watch data 
[2] FSC Brazil, 10 Oct 2017, IFL Update 

ATIBT cautiously optimistic on China illegal timber ban impacts

The International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT) is in weekly dialogue with Chinese trade bodies to follow implementation of China’s new illegal timber regulation and assess its potential impact on Congo Basin forestry and wood sectors. It is optimistic that the outcomes will be positive in terms of combating illegal timber trade, but agrees with NGOs that work is needed to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the new regulation. It is also key, says the ATIBT, that supplier country governments work with China in tackling illegality.

The prohibition on Chinese companies ‘purchasing, processing and transporting’ timber known to be illegally sourced forms part of revision of the country’s Forest Law.  It comes into effect on July 1.

ATIBT Managing Director Benoît Jobbé-Duval said the Chinese trade as a whole should not be labelled as trading illegally. “We are talking about specific Chinese actors who continue to operate totally illegally,” he said.  “But they are in significant numbers.”

The ATIBT is developing its relationships with the Chinese Timber and Wood Products Distribution Association and Global Green Supply Chain networks to better understand the consequences of the new forest law and its impacts on the natural forests of the Congo Basin. “We must remain optimistic about the effective implementation of the illegal timber ban, but [government] announcements must be followed by very clear evidence and demonstrations of strong action on imports into China,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. “We raised this in discussion with the Chinese organisations and their response was that enforcement will require resources that are not yet mobilised. So we’ll have to wait for these to be put in place before we can properly gauge whether regulations are being properly applied.”

Action on the ground in supplier countries to back up new Chinese measures was also essential, he said. “Their governments must also take responsibility and act in a concerted manner with the Chinese authorities to track down illegal timber traffickers,” he said.

A report on China’s Forest Law revision has been published by Cameroon NGO FLAG, but, other than this, it does not seem to have received much coverage in the Congo Basin. More communication in the region is needed, said Mr Jobbé-Duval. ATIBT says it will continue to interact with Chinese and ‘other organisations familiar with China to continue pushing it in the right direction’.

“What is certain is that Chinese, and non-Chinese players, operating illegally are causing enormous damage to the industry, discrediting it and competing unfairly with players engaged in good practices,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval.

Xiufang Sun, China-based Senior Analyst, Forest Policy, Trade and Finance of NGO Forest Trends, told the STTC that there remained ‘much to be done’ in terms of implementation of the illegal logging prohibition. “China’s State Forestry and Grasslands Administration (SFGA) has a list of tasks, such as setting standards and supervising measures as stated in the law,” she said. “By common practice, the Forestry Law Implementation Regulations will then be promulgated at least one year after the law takes force, so no earlier than July 2021.”

Importers share views on growing sustainable tropical timber market

Growing the European market for verified sustainable tropical timber demands more coordinated, cohesive industry-wide promotion. This should particularly target specifiers and consumers to convince them of the benefits of buying sustainable tropical timber, notably in incentivizing uptake of sustainable tropical forest management. NGOs and government must also be persuaded to actively encourage its use. These are among recommendations from timber importers in six of the leading European tropical timber importing countries, responding to a Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition survey.

The aim of the survey is to ensure the market relevance of STTC’s communications and promotional activities. A total of 38 companies across Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and UK took part.

Except for those in the Netherlands, the majority of survey respondents think that, while sales share of certified timber is rising, the overall market in their country for tropical timber is decreasing.

Some respondents have heard of the STTC, ATIBT and the Fair&Precious sustainable tropical timber promotional campaign. Overall, however, they expressed limited awareness of existing tropical timber marketing tools and information. The effectiveness of marketing and communications efforts, felt some, is also limited by there being too many, so diluting their impact. They maintain that a coordinated approach is needed to have any hope of success and UK respondents called for one single sustainable tropical timber promotional body.

Respondents also think that existing sustainable tropical timber marketing is addressing the wrong audience, the timber trade. Instead, it needs to be directed at consumers and key market influencers, such as architects, say French, Dutch and UK respondents.

Belgian, German and UK importers all stress the need to get NGOs behind sustainable tropical timber promotion. Their campaigning to combat deforestation, say Belgian respondents, has created the impression that they oppose the tropical timber sector. The trade needs to undertake a programme of communication and education to convince NGOs not just to support, but participate in and initiate verified sustainable tropical timber promotion and convince the public that buying it ‘is the right thing to do’.

Government procurement policy is also seen as vital in shaping the timber market place, and Netherlands respondents say their government’s policy has been a strong driver for sustainable tropical timber. Other nationalities feel their governments should be pressed to follow the Dutch example.

Promotion of sustainable tropical timber by respondents themselves is in general limited, with the view expressed that this is primarily the role of their national federations. Other to-dos to grow the sustainable tropical timber market, say respondents, are to reduce the price differential between certified and non-certified timber, increase trust in certification and improve availability and reliability of supply.

Survey recommendations:

  • Timber trade federations should support members in trading solely in timber  from responsibly managed forests and in formulating sustainable  purchasing policies
  • Governments should continue to implement and improve timber procurement policies
  • STTC could initiate more coordinated European level tropical timber promotion and link with other timber sectors in promoting use of sustainable tropical timber to end customers
  • Companies could do more to promote sustainable tropical timber products and advertise that they contribute to sustainable forest management
  • NGOs should be persuaded to promote the values of sustainable tropical timber
  • VAT and other tax measures could be used to make verified sustainable tropical timber more competitive versus non-certified.