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ECE and FAO Co-operate to Solve Europe's Timber Crisis

The new Timber Subcommittee of the Economic Commission for Europe met for the first time in Geneva, 15 to 19 October. The session marks the opening of a new and promising chapter in the history of international co-operation with regard to European timber production and trade.

The beginnings go back to the end of World War I but it took the depression of 1932 to bring about the first concerted effort. Attempts to regulate and stabilize European timber trade, initiated by the Economic Committee of the League of Nations in 1932, were subsequently undertaken by the Comité International du Bois (CIB), and culminated in the European Timber Exporters Convention (ETEC) concluded in 1935 at Copenhagen among the nine leading timber-producing countries of northern, eastern, and central Europe. Interrupted through the outbreak of World War II - except for Germany's attempts to adjust timber trade to the needs of its war economy - this cooperation was resumed in 1945 by the Timber Subcommittee of the Emergency Economic Commission for Europe (EECE) and a year later by FAO's Division of Forestry and Forest Products. In May 1947 the International Timber Conference at Marianske Lazne was able to agree on a broad international program, with regard to both short-term and long-term developments. And almost the same day that the report on timber, prepared in Paris by the 16 nations participating in the Committee of European Economic Co-operation, was presented in Washington, the ECE's Timber Subcommittee started its activities in Geneva.

Despite numerous changes in the sponsoring institutions, the delegates meeting at international timber and forestry conferences have frequently remained the same, thus assuring a far greater degree of continuity than might be assumed at first sight. The Chairman of the Geneva meeting was Gunnar Lange, Swedish Under Secretary of Agriculture, who had presided over the third committee of the Marianske Lazne conference. Mr. Dufay (France), Mr. Cerf (Belgium), Count Ceschi (Austria), Mr. Bretherton (United Kingdom), and many other delegates knew each other from Marianske Lazne, Paris, London, and Copenhagen, and in some cases even from timber conferences before the war. There is a French saying that "men change, institutions remain." In European timber relations, the opposite has happened.

Even before leaving for Geneva, most delegates were aware that this first session was not likely to reach binding agreements with regard to 1948. In seven meetings the committee was able to review the situation and to agree on production and requirement estimates that reduce the prospective European softwood deficit substantially below previously discussed figures for 1948 and beyond. The conference at Marianske Lazne had assumed a European deficit of 2.5 to 3 million standards. Six months later the Paris report concluded with a softwood deficit of 1.15 million standards for the participating countries; adding the requirements of the rest of the European area and the Mediterranean, and European export obligations to other continents, roughly 2.1 million standards was arrived at. The Geneva meeting was able to reduce this figure by another 25 percent.

This still leaves a deficit of 1.6 million standards, representing roughly 30 percent of the essential softwood importing requirements of western and southern Europe. But even more alarming than the size of the deficit is the question whether the estimate is realistic. Already in 1947 some exporting countries have not sold all the wood available for export despite an acute timber shortage. As late as May 1947, importing countries were satisfied that the essential import requirements as announced at Marianske Lazne constituted the minima they were anxious to import and prepared to pay for; since then, however, European currency difficulties have become so serious that several importing countries have had to cancel contracts and interrupt negotiations for further timber purchases as they were unable to provide the dollars or hard currencies that the producers were asking for. At the same time, some exporting countries decided to pile up timber stocks rather than sell against soft currencies that could not buy the goods they needed to import.

This situation threatens to become even more serious in 1948. Before entering into a discussion of measures designed to eliminate the remaining gap between prospective supplies and requirements or of schemes for the satisfactory distribution of supplies, the Timber Subcommittee asked the Executive Secretary to explore the nature and size of currency difficulties as they affect timber trade and to discuss with governments and competent international organizations possible remedies and solutions.

The Executive Secretary was also entrusted with two further mandates. The Soviet Union was not represented at the meeting. Yugoslavia was, but was unable to take an active part in the discussions. Romania, though not a member of ECE, was invited, but no delegates arrived. It is believed that these three exporting countries might be able to contribute substantially to increased European timber supplies. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are members of the Economic Commission for Europe, have taken a regular part in the work of the main commission, and can therefore be expected to participate also in the work of the technical subcommittees. For that reason the Executive Secretary was requested to make contacts with the exporting countries not represented this time, with a view to their participation at the next meeting.

A further point calling for clarification refers to supplies of steel, equipment, food, and coal necessary for maintaining and increasing timber output and exports. Producing countries submitted lists of requirements that must be met if they are to achieve their timber production goals. These requests for special allocations are being reviewed by ECE's Industries and Materials Committee, which met in Geneva 22 November. Once again the Executive Secretary was requested-to act as spokesman for the Timber Subcommittee, and to use his influence to secure the special allocations that constitute a prerequisite for timber production.

In addition to these-mandates on policy issues, the subcommittee agreed on certain principles of international cooperation. Its main purpose is to prevent serious maladjustments, to the detriment of the weaker importing countries, as a result of sales and purchases made before the conclusion of a more formal European timber agreement.

The report adopted at the end of the subcommittee's meeting contains also a fairly specific outline of work to be undertaken by the secretariat. It includes the collection and dissemination of periodic statistics on timber production, consumption, and trade. It requests the secretariat not only to follow the softwood position, which was the main tonic of this first session, but also to collect information on pitprops, hardwoods, plywood, fiber building boards, and railway sleepers, all of which the subcommittee intends to deal with. And finally the subcommittee suggested investigations with regard to timber consumption and possible economies in use, and also the preparation of plans for the industrial development of new forest resources.

To readers who have studied the Marianske Lazne report and the programs adopted for the Division of Forestry and Forest Products by FAO's annual Conference, many of these assignments will sound quite familiar. This is inevitable, even though the interest of ECE's Timber Subcommittee is confined to regional aspects, because it would be difficult to draw a line where FAO's interest ends and ECE's jurisdiction begins. For that reason discussions initiated even before the conference at Marianske Lazne have led to a working arrangement between FAO and ECE that provides for the continuous co-operation of these two bodies on timber matters. This arrangement had received the blessing of FAO's annual Conference, and was now formally approved by the Timber Subcommittee. In accordance with its terms a Forestry and Timber Office of FAO has been installed at Geneva in the Palais des Nations, and an FAO staff assists ECE in running the Timber Subcommittee's secretariat and in carrying out its new technical assignments.

The Geneva outpost of FAO's Division of Forestry and Forest Products will also be able to follow developments not connected with ECE's, Timber Subcommittee. It will act in regular contact' with FAO's temporary European Office in Rome. It will also be able to take part in the work of various European committees and research groups, both in the field of forestry and in the field of forest products.

When FAO was established with headquarters in Washington, many European foresters and timber experts, who had participated in earlier international efforts, expressed some concern that their particular problems might not receive due attention. They were told that these apprehensions were unfounded and that one of FAO's early developments would be to establish special facilities in Europe.

This promise has now been fulfilled. Europe's forestry and timber problems will be followed from a European center. They will be linked up here with an organization capable of co-ordinating timber and forestry problems with all other sections of Europe Is economy. But they will also be closely integrated with FAO's world forest policy, which becomes increasingly necessary as Europe's forests are seen as no longer capable of supplying the needs of Europe's people.

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