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Legal timber trade with EU can be big business for small companies

Cameroon

For small and medium enterprises in Cameroon’s forest sector, trade with the vast EU market is a prized target. But small companies often face big challenges. Growing market demands for assurances that timber and timber products are legal mean such companies must adapt.

New partnerships between the EU and Cameroon are therefore helping ensure that trade can not only tackle illegal logging but also drive sustainable development. For small businesses, legality can be the key that unlocks the EU market and enables them to modernise and grow.

‘We’ve come to realise that we must position ourselves on the market,’ says. Pamphile Ntanga of FECAPROBOIS, the Cameroonian Federation of Wood Processing Associations and Professionals. ‘The EU is a very important customer… It is in our best interest to create partnerships with Europe.’

EU importers have shown interest in buying timber provided by small and medium enterprises (SMEs), but they need to understand how SMEs work and what products they can provide. Increased communication between the two groups could lead to new business deals.

To encourage stronger links, in November 2014, Ntanga and counterparts from other Cameroonian small and medium enterprises visited Brussels to meet EU representatives, enforcement agencies and EU timber importers and processors. The meeting was part of a years-long process through which the EU and Cameroon are cooperating to eliminate illegal logging.

Cameroonian small and medium enterprises delegates at SOMEX

Cameroonian small and medium enterprises delegates at SOMEX

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Cameroonian small and medium enterprises delegates at SOMEX

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Tackling illegality together

The EU has long been a key importer of timber and timber products from Cameroon. In recent years, rising international concerns about the social, economic and environmental impacts of illegal logging have prompted policy shifts with profound implications for that trade.

In 2003, the EU launched its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. Its measures include Voluntary Partnership Agreements, or VPAs, which are bilateral trade agreements between the EU and timber-exporting countries outside the EU. A VPA seeks to ensure that timber and timber products imported into the EU from a partner country comply with the laws of that country.

Cameroon is one of six countries to have signed a VPA with the EU to date. Under the agreement, Cameroon is now developing a timber legality assurance system that will issue verified legal timber products with FLEGT licenses, which will expedite access to the EU market.

‘I believe that markets are more and more open to those who abide by the laws’, said Zacharie Wandja, president of an SME association called ANEFNTB. ‘That is a benefit and I think that this means a professionalization of the industry’.

The impetus to ensure legality increased in March 2013 when another aspect of the EU FLEGT Action Plan swung into operation: A new law called the EU Timber Regulation entered into force. As a result, importers are required for the first time to ensure that the timber and timber products they trade in are legal.

New responsibilities

SMEs in Cameroon are working hard to adapt to the new market requirements. ‘In legal terms the importer must prove that the wood he is importing is legal,’ said Sylvestre Nyeck Nyeck, president of GAFCAM, an association of forestry SMEs in Cameroon. ‘But, as for us, we must help the importer to prove that this wood is legal.’

The SMEs must therefore collaborate closely with both importers and the authorities enforcing the EU Timber Regulation. The visit to Brussels enabled their representatives to meet these groups, better understand the market requirements and share with EU importers their experiences of verifying legality. ‘We reassured them,’ said Pamphile Ntanga. ‘We gave them all the required warranties to prove the legality of our wood.’

But as well as needing to provide timber that is verified as legal, SMEs are facing additional challenges. The requirements for international trade in timber and timber products grow more stringent. EU importers often demand large quantities of timber, which must be of high quality and delivered in a timely manner.

‘The market becomes more demanding every day when it comes to quality,’ said Nyeck Nyeck. ‘We’ll need new equipment, new technologies - and to learn as well, because it’s more than just technology. We’ll need to be trained in management, technical and other areas.’

Markets are more and more open to those who abide by the laws. That is a benefit and I think that this means a professionalization of the industry.

— Zacharie Wandja, president of an SME association called ANEFNTB

Cameroonian small and medium enterprises delegates meeting

Cameroonian small and medium enterprises delegates meeting

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Cameroonian small and medium enterprises delegates meeting

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Strength in numbers

What SMEs lack in size and technical capacity, they make up for in numbers. But, as Nyeck Nyeck noted during the visit, Cameroon’s SME associations may need to join forces to face the powerful federation of European companies.

‘We have realised that we have to find a structure, a single group, to face our European counterparts, at all levels,’ he said. ‘I think that we’ll be more readily heard if we speak with one voice’. Since the visit to Brussels, Nyeck Nyeck and colleagues have taken steps to establish a timber trade association that groups SMEs, represents them and connects them to EU importers.

Such companies know better than anyone else that legality is the only way forward, and the only way of ensuring their businesses are sustainable. They are ready to prove that their timber can comply with all legal requirements.

Meanwhile, the growing partnership between the EU and Cameroon has already yielded benefits. ‘We have been observing, for some time now, a decrease in illegal logging,’ says Marcel Mboh, manager of AFC, a timber producer and exporter. ‘I believe that it’s due to the steps that the European Union took to prevent illegal timber from entering its territory. That’s what we see today in Cameroon.’

Cameroon and Europe: Creating a partnership for legal timber

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Cameroon and Europe: Creating a partnership for legal timber

Source: EU FLEGT Facility