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EUTR perspectives - View of the European Commission

Hugo Schally and Svetla Atanasova, DG Environment, EC: "Considerable preparatory work needed – View of the European Commission"

The EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade of 2003 (FLEGT) included the task to review the effectiveness of that action plan and to consider whether "additional measures" were necessary. After the adoption of the FLEGT Regulation (1) the Commission decided to start that assessment in 2006. This assessment clearly showed that the measures taken that far were not sufficient to address the main issues about illegal logging and related trade. 

The Commission therefore submitted a legislative proposal in 2008 with the objective of stimulating more responsible purchasing behavior from European timber traders thus indirectly influencing timber producers in countries exporting to the EU. This proposal was to eventually become Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of European Parliament and of the Council laying down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market (2) (EU Timber Regulation; EUTR). The central provisions of the Regulation, which is an ambitious instrument aiming at progressively eliminating illegal timber and timber products derived from such timber from the European market are: a "due diligence" requirement for operators, who place such products on the EU market; a "traceability requirement" serving the purposes of "chain of custody" and demanding all market participants further down the supply chain keep records, clearly identifying their suppliers and customers, and a prohibition on the first placing of illegal timber and timber products on the internal market.

Concrete obligation on operators

The Regulation will apply as of the 3rd March 2013. Its application within the EU will need considerable preparatory work as stakeholders continue to be rather anxious about the scope of application of the law, and the perceived administrative and bureaucratic burden it might impose on them. This has already been the subject of many heated debates. The Commission however believes that many concerns raised were only raised due to a misinterpretation of key provisions of the Regulation. Common examples of a misreading of the Regulation are e.g. concerns that it imposes a ban only on the imports; that operators have the burden of proof with regard to the legality of their products for each shipment; that each shipment must be accompanied by legality evidence, etc. 

In reality the EUTR applies to both imported timber and that harvested in the EU; it does not impose an obligation for proving the legality of products and does not require evidence of legality for every shipment. It however puts a very concrete obligation on operators to exercise due diligence (due care) i.e. they must do their best to ensure they purchase timber and timber products from reliable sources and have access to all relevant information. Operators must document their efforts to assess and if necessary mitigate the risk of placing illegal timber on the market or have to make use of a system set up by "monitoring organisations" (MO), recognized by the Commission.

Role of EU Member States

The Commission was obliged to adopt two acts of secondary legislation to facilitate and harmonize the implementation of the EUTR across the EU. One was adopted on 23rd March and provided details on the process of recognising MO; the other one concerns the obligation of operators to exercise "due diligence" and is due by June 2012. Further, we will draft "guidance" with the assistance of the EU Member States to aid correct interpretation of the legislative package.

The EU Member States will play an important role in the enforcement of the EUTR. They have already designated their national competent authorities, which on the one hand will provide support to national operators and on the other, will check their compliance with the requirements of the Regulation.

1. OJ L 347, 30.12.2005, p. 1.
2. OJ L 295, 12.11.2010, p. 23.

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This article can be found in the latest issue of EFI News, which concentrates on the countdown to the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR). The issue offers points of view from industry, an NGO, the European Commission, a producing country and a trade federation. 

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