The international NGO Fern warns that the Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Japan threatens the fight for legal timber in a recent briefing note.
According to the note, chapters of the draft deal were leaked to Greenpeace in June and revealed a lack of robust and enforceable commitments to stop cross-country trade of illegally logged timber. It placed Japan’s voluntary measures at the same level as the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR). Ahead of the ratification by the European Parliament of the EU-Japan Agreement, Fern states that “[u]nder the EUTR, it is illegal to place illegal timber on the market and there is an obligation on operators to exercise due diligence. Meanwhile, under the Clear Wood Act [Japanese law for controlling imports of illegally sourced timber implemented in 2017], there is a requirement to exercise due diligence only on those operators who choose to register”.
According to the Environment Investigation Agency (EIA), Japan is the world’s the fourth largest importer of wood products, after China, the United States, and the European Union. Furthermore, these imports partially come from places where illegal logging is an increasing concern.
The trade agreement was first seen as a sign of stability in a context of uncertainty and political unrest. It is also a flagship for future agreements with Indonesia, Singapore, Mexico, New Zealand and MERCOSUR. However, these international agreements also seek to promote high environmental standards through trade policy. Fern explains that the EU-Japan provisions on sustainable forest management increase the risk of undermining the EU’s attempts to mobilize countries to tackle illegal logging through national legislation, in particular for those producing countries with existing or negotiating Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA).
The Global Timber Tracking Network supports the implementation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan, which focuses on VPA and CITES trade controls by promoting the integrated use of innovative technologies for wood species identification and their geographic origin in order to deter illegal logging and related trade.