In recent years, European governments have become heavily engaged the business of developing environmental timber procurement policies. They are being driven on by their mounting concern for illegal logging, which they perceive to be a major source of deforestation and therefore a contributory factor to carbon emissions and climate change.
While the underlying intent of these measures and policies is laudable, from a market perspective they are adding a new layer of uncertainty for those seeking to sell wood products to the European Union. The situation is not helped by the sheer complexity of European government timber procurement requirements which vary widely from country to country. The competitiveness of wood products suppliers in the EU market in the future will be at least partly dependent on how well they read the confusing signals now being sent out by European policy makers.
All this activity is indicative of the importance now attached by European governments to clearing up supply chains and ensuring that wood used in government contracts does derive from well managed sources. But it also highlights the importance of European governments working towards harmonization of procurement policies and of making clear and unambiguous statements with respect to the forms of evidence that will be accepted.
There are some positive moves in this direction. The European Commission is due to issue a Communication on Green Public Procurement in April/May 2008 which, while covering all products, is expected to provide some specific guidance on development of government timber procurement policies. In addition, the UK, Dutch and Danish governments are co-operating in an effort to find common ground for the further development of procurement policy. However an underlying problem, which is very difficult to address, is that European procurement officials tend always to be more responsive to the needs and demands of national interests (including ENGOs, domestic industry and trading companies) than they are to the needs of forestry operators overseas that are actually responsible for implementing sustainable forestry practices .