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A weakening of Australia’s illegal logging laws could undermine the global push for forest preservation
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A weakening of Australia’s illegal logging laws could undermine the global push for forest preservation

logged hill in front of green landscape


One success from this year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow was an AgreementTo stop forest loss by 2030. The Morrison government signed the agreement, and this commitment is now being put to the test as it reviews Australia’s rules on illegal logging imports.

Australia’s Illegal Logging Prohibition ActThese regulations and any associated regulations are available for periodic review. These rules were created to ensure that timber imported from Australia was not illegally harvested. Some proposed changes would allow for a lighter regulatory burden to be placed on businesses and allow the rules to be relaxed.

According to InterpolThe illegal timber trade is worth close to US$152 billion per year. It is also responsible for as much as 90% of tropical deforestation in some countries. This is a significant driver of illegal timber. Climate change. Illegal logging, and associated tax fraud have other devastatingThese can cause economic, social, or environmental harms.

If Australia were to weaken illegal logging laws, it would be acting contrary to the Glasgow Agreement. Any loosening of the rules could also threaten the confidence of Australian consumers that the timber they’re buying is legally harvested.

logged hill in front of green landscape
If Australia were to weaken illegal logging laws, it would be acting contrary to the Glasgow agreement.
Barbara Walton

Due diligence matters

The following are the guidelines DealAt COP26, 141 nations agreed to a variety of measures to end deforestation in the next decade.

facilitate trade and development policies, internationally and domestically, that promote sustainable development, and sustainable commodity production and consumption, that work to countries’ mutual benefit, and that do not drive deforestation and land degradation.

As it stands now, Australian law that regulates timber imports supports this goal. It prohibits anyone from importing timber from another country or from processing it in a manner that is contrary to the laws of the country from which it was taken.

Australian timber importers and processors must ensure that imported timber is legally logged. Failure to do this can lead to civil or criminal sanctions.

A business must do its due diligence and gather information about the timber product that is being imported to assess and mitigate the risk of illegal logging.

Similar laws exist in other jurisdictions as well, including the United States, European Union, South Korea, Malaysia Vietnam.

These restrictions apply ConsistentInternational trade law has established principles that recognize the need for trade restrictions in order to preserve natural resources and protect human, animal, or plant life.

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timber frame of home
Australian timber importers need to ensure that the product has been legally logged.

A push for ‘efficiency’

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment conducts a scheduled Ten-year reviewRegulation 2012 on Illegal Logging Prohibition

The department’s Consultation paper asks, among other things, how the regulation’s efficiency could be enhanced. The proposed changes Could includeAmong other things:

  • The requirement to establish an international timber due diligence system has been removed for those who import and/or process foreign timber rarely. The department says establishing the system may be “unnecessarily burdensome”, however these importers would still be required to undertake a risk assessment.

  • Allowing exemptions for low volume and low-value processors and importers.

  • Reducing due diligence requirements for repeated imports. If timber products are from the same supplier, made of the same timber species, and harvested from a single area, then only one due diligence inspection would be required within a year. However, importers may be required not to verify that any relevant elements of their supply chain have changed before each repeat import.

  • It is possible to remove the requirement that companies conduct due diligence on timber imports by using third-party frameworks like the Forest Stewardship Council to assess risk associated with regulated timber products. This would be known as a “deemed to comply” arrangement.

The department has proposed measures that will compensate for the loosening in some rules, including stronger requirements to frequent importers and processors foreign timber and third-party auditing due diligence systems.

It also states that risks will need to be managed, including ensuring that claims relating timber species and harvest origins are supported by authentic documentation.

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people carry timber at port
According to the department, claims regarding timber species and harvest origins need to be supported with documentation.
Bagus Indahono/AP

We must remain vigilant

As the department prepares the final recommendations to the federal governments, it must take into account the need for increased monitoring of global logging practices. Nations signator to the COP26 agreement on deforestation recognized this need.

What’s more, overseas experience has shown some mooted changes have the potential to be problematic.

Indeed, in foreign timber markets, “deemed to comply” arrangements have been exposed as vulnerable to fraud. For example, the European Union Misuse of certification and questions about transparency

Australia has a way to go if it wants to satisfy the COP26 agreement to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation – not least by tighteningDomestic policy on deforestation inside our borders

It could also include efforts to address another major driver of deforestation, agricultural expansion. Joint statementOther countries have made progress at Glasgow in the areas of agriculture, forests and commodity trade.

It must also ensure that any foreign timber entering Australia is not illegally logged. Although due diligence requirements can be burdensome for some operators, they must be balanced against the urgent global imperative to stop forest loss.

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