, STRASBOURG, Jul 7 – The European Union banned on Wednesday illegally-harvested timber in a bid to protect forests from the Amazon to Asia, fight climate change and ensure that furniture comes from legal wood products.
The European Parliament voted 644-25 to outlaw illegal timber or products made from such wood, which makes up around one-fifth of all timber imports into the European Union, and punish unscrupulous dealers.
Green member of the European Parliament Satu Hassi, who negotiated a deal with the 27 EU states, called the legislation an "internationally important breakthrough." The new rules will be implemented in two years.
The European legislation closes a loophole in the industry because it is currently not against the law to sell timber in the EU that was cut down illegally in its country of origin.
More than half of logging activities take place in vulnerable regions such as the Amazon Basin, central Africa, southeast Asia and Russia, according to the European Union.
Illegally-harvested timber represents 20 to 40 percent of global production of industrial wood, or 350 million to 650 million cubic metres, according to the UN.
The environmental group WWF estimated that in 2006 the EU imported around 30 million cubic metres of timber and wooden products made from illegal logging, mostly from Russia, China and Indonesia.
Under the new EU rules, importers will have to seek sufficient guarantees that the timber they are bringing in is legally harvested.
Traders such as furniture sellers must then make sure that the origin of the wood used to make their products is traceable.
While the legislation covers the 27-nation EU, it will be up to individual member states to set penalties for wrongdoers.
In drafting fines, governments can take into account the impact of the damage done by illegal logging to the environment, the value of the timber and the tax revenue that was lost.
But the bill does not include criminal penalties for importing and selling illegally-harvested wood, Hassi said. She also regretted that the legislation does not include minimum fines.
"It is up to member countries to make the worst offences crimes," Hassi said.
The new rules will be implemented in 2012 to give national governments time to draft their own sets of sanctions and fines, she said.
Environmental groups have welcomed Europe\’s move to combat illegal logging, saying it would help curb climate change. Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EU.
"The world\’s largest market is about to shut its gates to companies profiting from illegal trafficking and forest destruction," Greenpeace EU forest policy director Sebastien Risso said recently.
"The black market for wood products is often run by criminals fuelling conflict, robbing governments of revenue and causing irreversible environmental destruction," he said.
But Greenpeace expressed regret that the regime of sanctions and penalties proposed in the legislation was "too weak" and that the date of application of the regulation will come too late, some two years after the entry into force.