It is a great pleasure to welcome you all, on behalf of Mr. J. Diouf, Director-General FAO, to this Regional Workshop Forest certification in China: Latest developments and future strategies,. People all over the world are increasingly concerned about how forests are managed. There is a growing recognition that the forests that were once considered infinite are rapidly decreasing in size, and degraded, while the demand for wood and wood products, non-wood forest products and environmental services that forests provide continue to increase. There is clearly an urgent need to manage our forests in a more sustainable manner, so that there will be forest resources for our children and our children’s children.
The importance and role of forests in the Asia Pacific region hardly needs any emphasis. FAO has pointed out that the livelihoods of over a billion people are somehow intricately connected to forests and trees. These people are totally or partially dependent on forest resources for food, shelter, medicine and numerous other products. Millions of people are also employed in the forestry sector. Therefore, any action we take will have an impact not only directly on forests, but also indirectly on peoples’ livelihood and their ability to achieve food security. In the past, our approach to forestry has mainly focused on regulatory matters?. Unfortunately, this has not been satisfactory to date, as forest legislation at the country level has not resulted in measurable improvements. More often than not, the customary and traditional rules for managing forests have been neglected or ignored.
Current thinking is aimed at linking sustainable forest management with sustainable development, recognizing the wider values of forests, and the development of new instruments to bring about sustainable forest management. Forest certification is beginning to gain impetus in this respect.
Certification is used widely in many industries, including agriculture and the fishing industry (Marine Stewardship Council). Certification is a means of ensuring that a product is produced according to a certain predefined standard, hence it is not something that is only limited to forestry. The idea of using forest certification as a tool for bringing about sustainable management really began in the early 1990s when global concern for loss of tropical rainforests increased. Forest certification has since gained considerable momentum and there are currently numerous international and national forest certification schemes in various stages of development and implementation.
Forest certification is a voluntary market driven mechanism that considers the economic, biological and social aspects of sustainability. Forest certification works in three ways:
By setting standards for forest practices and management, that guarantees a certain level of management performance;
By the marketing of forest derived products; and
Through public education, of both producers and consumers.
The forestry sector in China is at a critical stage – while the domestic demand for forest products is growing by leaps and bounds, there is also a concurrent growth in the exports of value added products. With such a background, especially with export-oriented growth, the demand for certified products is likely to increase. It is therefore pleasing to know that our Chinese colleagues have clearly placed high importance to the issue of certification, and have requested FAO to assist them in their quest. This workshop would prove pivotal in bringing together the important elements for such an initiative.
The workshop offers the opportunity to obtain a broad overview of the most recent developments in forest certification, as this is a very rapidly developing field. I am also pleased that this meeting provides an opportunity for a regional exchange of ideas and experiences on the issue of certification in general and developing national forest certification standards in particular. A number of countries from the region are already actively involved in this endeavor, while others are considering it. This exchange of information and ideas is certainly valuable for the region, and fits with FAO’s mandate in providing a neutral forum for discussion and strengthening capacities.
There is considerable debate about what actually constitutes sustainable forest management. There is also debate about the merits of various certification schemes. While the debates will go on, however, let me stress that for this workshop, our discussions will delve more into using certification as a tool to achieve sustainable forest management here in China and in other countries in the region. At the completion of this workshop both participants from China and the region will be up-to-date on the latest developments in forest certification. They will then be able to take this information back with them to use it in their own work. With such developments, I see a better future for forestry in the region, as well as improvement in the trade benefits for many of the countries in the region. FAO is therefore very pleased to be a part of this initiative.
In closing, I would like to wish you all the very best in your deliberations and discussions, and hope that you will have a productive workshop. I look forward to hearing the results and the future actions to be planned.