Jean-Pierre Kiekens is head of the consulting firm Environmental Strategies Europe (ESE) and lectures on development economics at the Université libre de Bruxelles.
It all started with tropical timber. Let us use the "power of the market" to generate incentives for sustainable management - by labelling tropical timber originating from sustainably managed forests - suggested a number of environmental groups in 1989. With the globalization of international forestry discussions, the scope of these demands was rapidly extended to apply to timber from all types of forest.
The introduction of trade measures to improve forest management, however, is not a simple matter. A variety of schemes involving instruments such as import levies, compulsory marking and voluntary certification have foundered recently, either because they proved to be contrary to international trade agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) or simply impossible to implement (Kiekens, 1995).
Nonetheless, timber certification is being increasingly discussed in many fora, including the European Community, the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP), FAO, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). In fact, the international community may be on the brink of acknowledging "the importance of timber certification as a means of promoting the sustainable management of all types of forests" (EC, 1995).
Yet, while timber certification seems to be viewed as virtually inevitable, little attention is being focused on whether it can actually provide the desired incentives for improved forest management.
POTENTIAL ROLE IN WORLD TIMBER TRADE LIMITED
Supply and demand patterns indicate that trade in certified timber would be likely to have only a marginal role in world timber trade. On the demand side, only selected market segments in a few countries (for example, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands) can currently be expected to be receptive to certified timber. Even there, the adoption of certification by the mainstream timber trade and industry remains uncertain. Globally, as a percentage of total timber production, the demand for certified timber is negligible.
On the supply side, it is in the industrialized countries that progress is most apparent. Progress is much slower in tropical countries, although schemes are being studied in countries such as Côte d'Ivoire, Indonesia and Brazil. It can therefore be expected that supplies of certified timber are going to be made available mainly by industrialized countries. In many cases, tropical timber may simply be substituted by temperate and boreal timber. Timber certification could, therefore, lead to trade diversion and its associated economic costs. It may also be seen as disguised environmental protectionism.
IMPACT ON FOREST MANAGEMENT UNCERTAIN
The impact of timber certification on forest management is unlikely to be more important than that on the world timber trade. Forestry in many countries is likely to remain unaffected by voluntary timber certification. Even where implemented, just a few forest concessions would generally suffice to supply the market segments demanding certified timber. Domestic timber consumption, strongly increasing in many developing countries and particularly in Asia, would be unaffected by timber certification.
Even worse, timber certification could have undesirable effects on national and international forestry policies. At the national level, timber certification poses the dilemma of voluntary versus mandatory regulations. The voluntary character of certification emerged from international trade considerations but, for many domestic situations, particularly in industrialized countries, doubts can be raised as to the relevance of using voluntary instruments, especially if governments are led to postpone, or even avoid, needed regulations in the forestry sector.
At the international level, certification could have an impact on forestry aid. For example, the Protocol on Sustainable Management of Forests that has just been added to the Lomé IV Convention, the main instrument of development cooperation in the hands of the European Union, does not include any new financial resources for forestry (despite the commitments made in Rio de Janeiro). It requires, however, ACP countries to "support the definition and development of certification systems... as part of envisaged internationally harmonized certification systems for all kinds of timber and timber products". Developing countries, including the poorest ones, are therefore asked to do more with less (Zolty, 1995).
Sustainable forest management can take place without timber certification. Conversely, the extent to which certification can help to improve forest management remains unclear, while its economic costs may be significant. The illusion that certification can induce sustainable forest management at no cost, even on a moderate scale, must be dispelled. This is particularly true for tropical countries, where there is still a great need to bring forests designated for timber production under proper management.
Instead of considering certification as "inevitable", policy-makers may want to give serious thought to alternative options, even if they bear budgetary implications. Possible alternative instruments include an international production-related compensatory agreement (Bach and Gram, 1993), a scheme of international registration of forests (similar to wetlands registration under the Ramsar Convention) (Kiekens, Faure and Gabus, 1995), and the long overdue reinforcement of international support to the development and implementation of National Forest Action Plans.
Bach, C.F. & Gram, S. 1993. The tropical timber triangle - a production-related agreement on tropical timber. Copenhagen, Department of Economics and Natural Resources, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University.
EC. 1995. Draft terms of reference. European Working Group on Timber Certification. Brussels, European Commission.
Kiekens, J.-P. 1995. Europe and tropical timber. Ecodecision. (in press)
Kiekens, J.-P, Faure, J.-J. & Gabus, A. 1995. Aménagement forestier durable, enregistrement international des forêts et éco-certification du bois. Report submitted to the French Ministry of Co-operation and the European Commission. Brussels, Environmental Strategies Europe.
Zolty, A. 1995. Le compromis ACP/UE: un petit joyau d'inconsistance. Afrique Agriculture (June).