Tropical timber producers fret about new regulations

14 May 2003, Panama City, Panama

New timber import regulations in the European Community could have a dramatic impact on the tropical timber trade, according to speakers at the ITTO Annual Market Discussion, which was held here yesterday.

According to Ivan Tomaselli, a trade expert from Brazil, the European Community is changing its standards on wood-based panels. As of 1 April 2004 it will be compulsory for exporters to apply the 'CE Marking' based on European Union (EU) Standard EN 13986.

Under the CE Marking system, wood-based panels traded in the EU must satisfy new health and safety requirements. To do so, manufacturers will need to install quality-control systems in their factories for the regular testing of products and use a certified testing laboratory with third-party auditing.

Speaking during the Discussion, several tropical plywood producers, including from Ghana, Malaysia and Brazil, voiced concern that these new regulations would severely affect the tropical timber trade, since many tropical timber producers do not have the necessary certified testing laboratories. Moreover, the time allowed to meet the new requirements was too short.

According to these speakers, exports of wood-based panels (especially tropical plywood) to Europe will decline sharply once the new regulations come into force and exporters such as Brazil and Ghana would lose important market share to European producers.

Also during the Discussion, Wendy Baer, Executive Vice President of the International Wood Products Association (IWPA), alluded to the recent listing of Big-leaf Mahogany in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). An Appendix II listing is designed to regulate trade in species not threatened with extinction but which may become threatened if trade is uncontrolled.

"The IWPA and many others did not support this up-listing because extensive research has clearly shown that Big-leaf Mahogany is regenerating," she said.

"The experts have agreed that Big-leaf Mahogany is a hardy species in no danger of extinction, least of all by trade," she said. "Its native range extends across 235 million hectares in Latin America, primarily in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. The actual volume of mahogany in international trade is less than 1% of the estimated stocks. The fact is that the uplisting to Appendix II for mahogany was not supported by science."

Nevertheless, Baer stressed that a CITES II listing was not a trade ban. In fact, the new CITES listing offers buyers and consumers twice the assurance that the mahogany they purchase and use has come from well-managed forests.