Obstacles in sourcing certified tropical timber

Over 90% of all wood imported by the members of the Netherlands Timber Trade Association (VVNH) is from verified sustainable forest. However the proportion of certified material in their tropical timber imports declined in 2018.

These are among the findings of the annual trade report covering VVNH’s 216 members by forest and timber sustainability analysts and advisors Probos. According to its analysis, 91.9% of the 1.8 million m3 of softwood, hardwood and sheet materials imported by VVNH companies in 2018 was backed with an FSC or PEFC certificate, about the same level as 2017.

The highest proportion of certified imports came in softwood, up from 98.4% in 2017 to 99.1%.

Certified sheet materials showed an increase in the certified total from 93.5% to 94.5%, while certified temperate hardwood imports were up from 46.6% to 59.6%.

But the proportion of certified tropical timber imported into the Netherlands fell from 66.1% in 2017 to 63.6% last year.

VVNH Director Paul van den Heuvel said that there were various factors involved in this decline. “Members earlier reported that it was becoming increasingly difficult to get verified sustainable tropical wood. Now this is also reflected in the figures,” he said. “Among the causes is that some certified forest concessions are in conflict areas, making them no longer accessible. Also implicated is increasing tropical timber demand in Asia, where sustainability is hardly ever a purchasing criteria.”

In addition, Jan Oldenburger from Probos added; ‘Malaysia is the most important supplier of certified material for the Dutch market and if the certified sustainably managed forest area there decreases, it will impact the market share. Although we are worried, we should be aware that a one year’s decrease, might be an incident. We continue to monitor the situation.”

In the Netherlands, leading timber and associated trade associations, construction and retail sector bodies, unions, conservation organisations and various government ministries have signed a ‘Covenant’ to make verified sustainable timber the norm across the supply chain. Mr Van den Heuvel, chairman of the Covenant board, said the VVNH and the other 23 signatories needed to step up their efforts in supporting sustainable tropical timber demand, which in turn supports sustainable tropical forest management.

”One thing is clear,” he said. “If the market for verified sustainable wood doesn’t lead quickly to a better business case for sustainable forest management in the tropics, we will probably lose even more certified concessions, with over-harvesting or deforestation as a result. In short, the remaining challenges are great and all parties must work hard to meet Covenant objectives”.