Laying a forest footprint trail

The Timber Trade Action Plan contributed to the fight against illegal logging and could be used as an example for other sectors and industries to reduce their deforestation impacts, writes The Forest Trust project manager Alastair Herd, who was involved with the initiative from 2007.

"The Timber Trade Action Plan (TTAP) was among the first private sector initiatives financed by the European Commission in support of its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan (FLEGT) to combat illegal logging.

It was conceived by The Forest Trust (TFT) and the timber trade federations of the Netherlands, UK, Belgium and France in late 2003, to help their members demonstrate product legality. In so doing, it would also promote sustainable forest management, improve forest governance and alleviate rural poverty in supplier countries. And the project became increasingly relevant with the adoption of the EU Timber Regulation and its due diligence obligations for operators.

TTAP was managed and staffed by TFT. Its key activities focussed on working with European buyers and their suppliers in ten key timber producing and processing countries; Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bolivia, Brazil, China, Guyana and Suriname.  

The approach involved buyers nominating key suppliers for gap assessment. This initial evaluation of forest or processing sites helped identify any gaps against a legality checklist and determined elements to be addressed in the next phase, the Action Plan itself.  Each company received tailored support to build capacity and close out the gaps for a robust traceability system. The latter would be able to track timber from a verified legal source, through transport and processing to export, and ensure that any unknown sources were segregated from known legal sources. Next, independent auditors verified that the company met the standard’s requirements. They could then provide third party assurances that the timber had been harvested legally, information which could be factored into buyers’ due diligence systems and purchasing decisions.

By the close of the TTAP in June 2013, it had achieved 65 legally verified supply chains split between Africa (16); Asia (39) and South America (10), and will, once statements for 14 more audited supply chains are issued, exceed its target of 70. This corresponds to a total of 3.9 million hectares of forest verified out of 7.8 million hectares assessed, and in the process, conserved through responsible forest management, with workers conditions improved and rights of local communities respected. 

Overall, TTAP has made an important contribution to the implementation of the EU’s FLEGT Action Plan to combat illegal logging. It has helped producers and buyers meet the requirements of the EUTR, and field-tested FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) legality definitions in African countries and supported VPA negotiation in Indonesia.  And, we would like to credit the project partners, the ETTF, both the buyers and suppliers involved and other stakeholders, for their commitment to the project, and the European Commission for their funding.

However, while TTAP was a success, much work is still required to ensure robust enforcement of the EUTR to exclude illegal timber from European markets.  Also, the EC’s recent study on the role of crops, such as soy and palm oil, the textile industry, and meat production in driving forest conversion estimated that Europe’s embodied deforestation footprint related to the consumption of these products is 10%.  This is double that of USA.  With just 2% of global deforestation attributed to logging, the EC and these other sectors should draw inspiration from the timber industry’s leadership in combating illegal logging through FLEGT, TTAP and other initiatives, to further reduce Europe’s forest impacts.