Member States too lax about illegal wood entering EU market, finds new WWF report

Posted on 13 December 2019

Existing EU legislation does not provide consumers with a guarantee that wood used in products they purchase was not cut and imported illegally. This is the finding of a new report published today by WWF, which showed severe gaps in the implementation of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) in all 16 assessed Member States (1). Without strong national enforcement action, the law still fails to have a real and lasting effect on illegal timber trade.

Illegal logging destroys forests around the world, exacerbating the global climate and biodiversity crises, and affecting livelihoods, thus must be addressed urgently. Forestry crimes are valued at US$51–152 billion per year globally (2). The aim of the EUTR - which has been in place for six years already -, is to ensure that timber and timber-related products on the European market are legal, by prohibiting imports of illegally harvested timber and products. 

With the adoption of the EUTR back in 2013, the EU and its Member States acknowledged their responsibility to implement and enforce the law properly. However, this is clearly not happening, and today’s report has identified severe shortcomings in the enforcement of the law.

“Six years after it came into force, the spirit of the EU law to stop the trade in illegal timber is clear, but the lack of enforcement actions across Member States is leaving the legislation toothless,” concluded Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, Senior Forest Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office. “Without meaningful criminal sanctions, thorough checks and controls, and adequate resources to carry them out, the EUTR has no teeth. The problem of illegal logging is serious, and we urge Member States to start taking it seriously!”

Currently, only half of the 16 Member States have included criminal sanctions in their national legislation. In addition, controls tend to be too weak, and national authorities are in dire lack of sufficient resources to carry out their responsibilities. 

“The European Commission should exercise its role and apply its promise of ‘zero tolerance’ on non-compliance by pushing Member States to improve the enforcement of EU legislation at national level and step up cooperation to fight criminal activities,” said Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove. “Ensuring adequate implementation of environmental laws must be the first test for the ambition of the European Green Deal.”

Concrete recommendations for Member States and the European Commission include:

  • The European Commission should carry out a thorough analysis of penalties and sanctions at national level and their deterrent effect, and set up a multi-stakeholder platform to discuss the findings;  
  • Checks at national level should be carried out based on regularly updated inspection plans, using the latest available information, cover both domestic and imported timber products and their risk level to be illegal, and set clear targets and timelines for inspection plans;
  • Capacities at national level must be strengthened to ensure good coverage of operators and allow for regular and frequent checks, which must thoroughly assess operators;
  • Regional cooperation should be encouraged for better harmonisation through regional exchanges amongst CAs to align approaches and to share experiences.

Notes to the editor

(1) The “WWF Enforcement Review of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR)” analysis is based on surveys WWF carried out with EUTR competent authorities of 16 Member States between October 2018 and March 2019. Gaps and/or good practices listed in the report do not necessarily apply to all the 16 Member States, although many of the gaps and shortcomings appear common and widespread. The majority of recommendations are relevant to all 16 countries analysed, and to Member States that were not part of the review. 

(2) UNEP (2016): The Rise of Environmental Crime A Growing Threat to Natural Resources, Peace, Development and Security

The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) entered into force in 2013, and aims to counter illegal logging and associated trade in timber and timber products in the EU, and contribute to sustainable forest management. However, loopholes in the EUTR and implementation gaps at Member State level have hindered a real change in practice. 

In 2016 European Commission carried out a review of the EUTR, showing the need for more action from the Member States and the private sector to make sure EUTR is put in action.

WWF is advocating for better enforcement and implementation of the EUTR, in order to ensure that illegally logged timber and timber products are no longer sold on the European market. We are also partnering with INTERPOL in an innovative project aimed at boosting law enforcement and investigations to detect forest crime and respond to it.

Timber by the side of the road
© © Ola Jennersten / WWF-Sweden