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A Commentary by Thomas Enters

Associate, Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC) Kasetsart University, Thailand

On 22 May 2008, the U.S. Congress passed a new law effectively banning commerce in illegally sourced timber and wood products. The new law is an amendment to a 100-year-old statute, named the Lacey Act, named after the Congressman who first championed it. While the act has long been one of the most powerful tools for the U.S. agencies fighting wildlife crime, its potential to combat illegal logging remained untapped until recently.

The act gives the U.S. government the power to fine, and even jail, individuals and companies who traffic in illegally harvested wood products. The U.S. government can even use the act, to impose significant penalties on individuals and companies who do not realize that their wood is tainted. This new law, and the new import declaration it requires, will affect manufacturers and exporters who ship a variety of products made from wood to the United States, including paper, furniture, lumber, flooring, plywood or even picture frames.

Even before the Lacey Act was amended, the U.S. government was targeting illegal trade in furniture made from endangered tree species. On 16 April 2008, a federal grand jury in Newark, New Jersey indicted a furniture maker under the Endangered Species Act and the anti-smuggling statute for importing a container of baby cribs made from Ramin, an endangered tree species listed under CITES. The Lacey Act makes it possible for the U.S. government to pursue similar prosecutions of people who traffic in non-endangered but illegally sourced timber products.

Greenpeace has hailed the Lacey Act amendment as a powerful new tool to protect forests, people and wildlife worldwide. The Forest Stewardship Council views the act as “… a great stride in protecting forests around the globe”.  Other organizations have expressed similar opinions.  Although it remains to be seen to what extent the Lacey Act ammendment will enhance the protection of tropical forests, it seems fairly certain that it will impact significantly on how import into the US market will be carried out in the future.

The U.S.A. is the single greatest consumer of wood products in the world and until now, there has been no mechanism for stemming the import of illegally sourced wood representing an estimated 10 percent of American supply. The implications for American companies importing timber are clear. They have to work closely with exporters to ensure that the timber they import is legal. For forest products, such as wooden furniture, it means that all of the components have been legally sourced. How can they assure legality?  

The Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF) has over the last several years developed a “Forest-Market Linking Program” which provides solid assurances of legality to any buyer. In Indonesia, TFF has become actively involved in assisting companies who wish to establish Chain-of-Custody (CoC) systems in support of specific market requirements. TFF offers base-line assessments, evaluations, technical guidance, training, and monitoring for CoC.  TFF assists both forest concessions and forest industries to prepare for independent, third-party CoC and legality audits. TFF has also been closely involved in the development of an Indonesian legality standard and provides assistance to forest concessions to achieve legality certificates.

TFF’s “Forest-Market Linking Program” is up and running and already covers well over 800,000 hectares of tropical forests!  (For a description of participating concession companies and their affiliated industries, see the lead article in this newsletter).

TFF also operates a Verified Legal Origin (VLO) program in partnership with DLH Nordisk of Denmark.  TFF is providing its services to an ever-increasing number of clients, who not only understand the implications of the Lacey Act, but are also spearheading the fight against illegal logging and the trade in illegally sourced forest products.

The forest-market linking program is an effective tool to drive change in the industry and forest. If you want to sit in the drivers seat, respond to the Lacey Act challenge by joining the program.