EU deforestation conference considers action on Bad Ag

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

The EU Commission considers next steps to tackle deforestation and illegal logging

Last week, the European Commission hosted a major conference on the subject of deforestation and illegal logging. Around 250 delegates from around the world attended the meeting, at which the EU released its latest thinking on the future steps it might take to tackle these problems. Foremost among them was action to address the role the world’s largest economic bloc plays in driving legal and illegal tropical deforestation through its purchases of forest risk commodities such as beef, palm oil and soy. The conference comes in the wake of the European Parliament’s recent resolution on the issue, which supported strong measures. The EU has repeatedly made strong commitments to addressing deforestation, but is currently mired in the painfully long process of working out what exactly it is going to do about it.

One of the working documents released by the Commission in advance of the meeting was a draft 250-page feasibility study, on ‘Options to Step up EU Action Against Deforestation’, prepared on its behalf by a consulting firm. The final results of this feasibility study will play a key role in determining the course the EU takes. The conference provided an opportunity for interested parties to provide feedback.

Specific options considered as a means of preventing agro-commodities from illegally deforested land entering the EU include bilateral trade agreements with producer countries, and legislation requiring EU importers to carry out due diligence before making purchases. Both are inspired by similar action already taken to tackle EU imports of illegally sourced wood. Both actions received widespread support from NGOs present, though Greenpeace called for such actions to consider all products from deforestation, whether illegal or not. EU forest-policy NGO Fern called for the mooted EU import regulation to support implementation of soft law on human rights and land tenure, such as the FAO’s Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure, which have been adopted by 190 countries. They also called for a focus on transparency. “The EU must require transparency in commodity supply chains and the financial sector,” Fern Campaigner Nicole Polsterer said. “Transparency is one of the key ingredients of any EU recipe to halt deforestation.”

In addition to considering new actions on deforestation and forest-risk commodities, the conference was also used by the Commission to obtain feedback on where next to take its existing work on illegal logging and related trade in timber. The EU’s 2003 ‘Action Plan’ on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) is viewed as highly successful, but the Commission is under pressure to cut costs and speed up the roll out of the measures it contains. They caused a stir with a proposal to provide a twin-track approach for timber producing countries wishing to work with the EU to stem illegal logging. This led to allegations that the EU was in danger of undermining its successful existing model of bilateral ‘Voluntary Partnership Agreements’ (VPAs) by introducing a new ‘VPA-light’ option for supplier states.