Does the EU’s Illegal Timber Law make government “timber procurement policies” obsolete?

At a recent meeting to discuss illegal logging hosted by Chatham House, an independent think-tank based in London, an EC official posed the question whether there is any value in public procurement policies that demand “legally verified” as a minimum standard when the new EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) comes into force in March 2013.

After that date, all wood traded in the EU will be required by law to be subject to risk assessment procedures designed to ensure no illegal wood enters the supply chain.  The EC official was suggesting that after 2013, there would be a stronger case for all public authorities across the EU to demand verified “sustainable” as the minimum standard for use of timber. 

Frankly this question needs to be turned on its head. If all wood is to be subject to fully audited due diligence requirements before it can be sold into the EU market, is there any longer any need for public sector “timber procurement policies”?

Surely public procurement should now focus on ensuring that equivalent standards of due diligence are applied across all material sectors given that only wood is now subject to regulation. All government contractors should be required to demonstrate conformance – through independent inspection – to a risk management system designed to ensure no illegal materials of any type enter their supply chains.   

It can hardly be disputed that illegal product enters the supply chains of many non-wood materials. Last year, the Indian government grew so concerned about the extent of illegal mining activities in the country, driven by surging prices on the back of Chinese demand, that it proposed a ban on exports of iron ore. 

Nor is illegality only a problem in mineral extraction. In the UK recently, there has been a spate of news reports highlighting the growing problem of metal theft (including from war memorials in a particularly grotesque example) as prices for scrap metal have risen dramatically, again ultimately driven by rising Chinese demand. So there’s even a risk that recycled metal products might contain material from illegal sources. 

Establishing due diligence requirements for all materials in public procurement policies would help to establish a level playing field for wood compared to other materials. As things stand, the complexity of requirements for sourcing wood – not matched by any equivalent requirements for non-wood products - means that wood is actively discriminated against. 

A strong case could also be made for government procurement policies to actively give preference, wherever possible, to wood that is verified sustainable through certification (whether FSC or PEFC) over all other materials. Bearing in mind of course that “sustainable” in the case of FSC or PEFC certified wood, unlike any other mainstream construction material I can think of, actually also means “renewable”. It also means conforming to a concoction of benchmarks for auditing, “performance measures”, and “balanced participation of environmental, social and economic interests” well in advance of other material sectors.  

Of course it is unrealistic to expect European governments to stick their necks out so far for wood – which is a shame for them since it would go a long way towards reducing their carbon footprint while at the same time making a very significant contribution to their own rural economies. 

But introduction of the EUTR is an opportunity for the wood industry to put the case for much wider acceptance of all timber in public procurement – both certified and uncertified. This is a much better policy than simply scrabbling around to achieve preferential treatment in government procurement for one forest certification system over another.  


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Rupert Oliver


Rupert Oliver is an independent [...]