STTC Conference raises questions about role of tropical forest certification

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The EU’s Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition held its annual conference in Paris on 26 September. The conference highlighted the ongoing work to promote tropical timber in Europe by STTC participants and raised questions about the role of targets for procurement of “certified sustainable” products that are central to STTC activities.

Discussions at the STTC Conference also raised important questions about the challenges of achieving certification in tropical countries and the underlying value of initiatives that promote FSC and PEFC certified wood to the exclusion of other, non-certified, tropical wood products.

As noted in the previous report, STTC has established a 2020 target “to increase European sustainably sourced tropical timber sales to 50% above 2013 levels”. While STTC does not explicitly define “verified sustainable”, the assumption in STTC reporting to date is that “verified sustainable” refers to FSC and PEFC certified timber.

The rationale for STTC’s support for marketing of FSC and PEFC certified wood was explained in a series of introductory presentations to the Paris conference.

Daan Wensing of IDH, the Dutch agency financing STTC, began by showing a slide with satellite data from Central Africa to demonstrate that certified forest coincided closely with areas free of deforestation.

Mr Wensing went on to say that while there was evidence that certification could play an important role to help conserve tropical forest, the level of market recognition and reward for certified products was weak and had declined since the global financial crises. STTC was formed, he said, with the intent of reversing these trends.

Robert Hunink, President of ATIBT, said that ATIBT has also formally associated itself with the STTC target to achieve 50% certified timber supply to the European market by 2020. He commented that “certification is the only guarantee that forests will continue”.

Mr Hunink said that a key role of ATIBT is to help companies that want to achieve certification. However, he also noted that achievement of the STTC procurement target required measures outside the direct control of STTC and ATIBT.

Mr Hunink highlighted the need for greater focus on the profitability of certified operations in tropical countries, suggesting there should be tax incentives for certified operations in the leading tropical supply countries and greater willingness on the part of buyers to pay premiums.

The latter was heavily dependent, in turn, on the will of European public agencies and other large buyers to demand only certified wood.

However, Mr Hunink also said that each forest concession must have the option to choose the appropriate certification system, whether FSC, PAFC, and PEFC. He hinted at the value of a phased approach and continuing need for innovation in certification and procurement practice, observing that certification using existing procedures is “a long and costly process” and concluding that “we need a change in approach that is radically different and patient”.

Ms. Jessica Tholon of Le Commerce du Bois (LCB), said the French trade association had been working closely with STTC since 2014 to develop responsible procurement policies and to boost sales of certified tropical timber.

However, in the case of LCB, rather than apply a target for certified imports to the entire membership, LCB had chosen to work with five companies willing to make a public commitment and to report progress, namely Bois des Trois Ports, CID, Rougier, Pasquet, and Tradelink.

According to Ms. Tholon, the proportion of certified product in total tropical trade reported by the five companies ranged from 10% to 55% in 2017, with most companies reporting an increase compared to the previous year. However, said Ms. Tholon, continuing supply difficulties constrained these efforts to deliver more certified tropical product.

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