Patience needed in pursuit of sustainable timber says trade

22 July 2004, Interlaken, Switzerland


Timber markets seek ‘soft’ values such as certificates of legality and sustainable forest management but suppliers are having trouble turning such values into ‘hard’ cash, according to a major European timber company.

Lau Nygaard, of Denmark-based Dalhoff Larsen & Horneman A/S (DLH), was speaking at the ITTO Annual Market Discussion, which was convened here today as part of the 36th Session of the International Tropical Timber Council.

DLH has an annual turnover of about €600 million, and trades timber throughout the world.

“There is an increased focus on legality and forest certification (of good forest management) as sales’ parameters,” said Mr Nygaard.

“But no one seems willing to pay for the evidence.”

Mr Nygaard called on the European Union and other countries to introduce laws that require the disclosure of the true origin of imported timber.

“Without enforceable laws, unscrupulous importers will exploit lower-priced timber from illegal origins,” he said.

Jean-Jacques Landrot, of the InterAfrica Forest Industry Association, also speaking during the ITTO Annual Market Discussion, supported measures that would increase the transparency of the timber trade and reassure consumers that timber is obtained from legal and well-managed sources.

“However, these things cannot be done overnight,” he said.

“Markets in consumer countries must be patient if they are to have a positive influence on forest management and the timber trade. Producers must be given adequate time to develop the capacity needed to demonstrate legality in their timber sectors.”

According to a report presented at the Council today, the ‘up-front’ costs of certification are another major barrier to the widespread pursuit of certification in tropical countries.

“We found that the first-year costs of certification represent at least 40% of the total cost of certification,” said Dr Markku Simula, an author of the report.

“The fact that benefits – which appear to eventually out-weigh the costs, at least in the forest management units we surveyed - come with a time-lag represents another hurdle in the path of tropical timber producers.”

ITTO has been exploring what is known as a ‘phased approach’ to certification. This would allow many of these costs to be met over a number of years, thus diminishing the risk to companies and reducing the initial cost hurdle, making certification accessible to more enterprises.

“The first step would be to verify the legality of the timber,” said Dr Simula.

For more information contact: Alastair Sarre,

See the Earth Negotiations Bulletin coverage of the session at