The European Union may ban the import of goods related to deforestation

    25 Dec 2021

    The European Union may ban the import of several products, including beef. 

    In late November, the European Commission unveiled a draft bill restricting imports of deforestation products, namely beef, coffee, cocoa, soybeans, palm oil, and wood. The bill requires companies to disclose information about their supply chains. It aims to prevent the import of deforestation goods into the EU.

    The European Commission tabled its plan on November 17 to introduce mandatory due diligence for products sold on the EU market to ensure they are not linked to deforestation or forest degradation.

    According to the innovation, producers will be forced to prove the transparency of their supply chain and justify that their products are not associated with deforestation; otherwise they will face fines.

    Deforestation causes climate change, biodiversity loss, and human rights violations not only in the process of extracting raw materials or production and its nces. Since 1990, the world has lost more than 420 million hectares of forest, mainly in Africa and South America. According to the European Commission, from 2015 to 2017 alone, 190,000 hectares of forest were cut down annually for the EU’s needs.

    The bill was presented at a press conference by Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans. He stressed the responsibility of the European Union for environmental issues.

    The College adopted a package of measures and actions on soil, deforestation, and waste shipments, delivering on Green Deal.

     “The actions we take now follow through on our ambitions and – that’s what really counts – concrete action. To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crises, we must take responsibility at home as well as in our international relations.

    The proposals we present to you today do exactly that.

    Our deforestation regulation answers citizens’ call to minimize the European contribution to deforestation and to promote sustainable consumption. Between 1990 and last year, we’ve lost 420 million hectares of forest – that’s an area larger than the European Union”, Frans Timmermans explained.

    The bill proposes to establish a procedure for auditing the company’s operations and products, as well as the introduction of a benchmarking system for countries at high risk of deforestation.

    In particular, the provisions of the document are expected to apply to importers of soybeans, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee, as well as some derived products, including leather, chocolate and furniture.

    The new rules will require operators placing their products on the EU market for the first time to disclose supply chain information to reassure the regulator that their products have not been produced on deforestation lands.

    “To begin with deforestation, this proposal is a truly ground-breaking one. And the reason why we can proudly say that it breaks new ground is that it targets not just illegal deforestation, but all deforestation driven by agricultural expansion. The deforestation regulations we are putting on the table are the most ambitious legislative attempts to tackle these issues worldwide ever,” said EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.

    The European Commission hopes that the law will be adopted by 2023. At the same time, large companies will be given a 12-month grace period for adaptation, and smaller companies will be given a 24-month grace period.

    The law proposed by the European Union’s executive body sets mandatory due diligence rules for importers into the EU of soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee, and some derived products including leather, chocolate and furniture.

    Many European companies operate in countries where environmental abuses are rife, but there is currently no EU-wide requirement for them to find and fix risks to the environment in their global supply chains.

    Emissions from the land-use sector, mostly caused by deforestation, are the second major cause of climate change after burning ossil fuels. World leaders agreed at this month’s COP26 summit to end deforestation by 2030.

    “To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crises, we must take the responsibility to act at home as well as abroad,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said. “Our deforestation regulation answers citizens’ calls to minimize the European contribution to deforestation.”

    If EU governments and the European Parliament approve the law, companies operating in the 27-nation EU will have to show the commodities specified were produced in accordance with the laws of the producing country.

    They will also have to show the commodities were not grown on any land deforested or degraded after Dec. 31, 2020, even if it is legal to produce there according to producing country law.

     

    ‘Major leap forward’

    The European Commission proposed the law be reviewed and updated regularly, making it possible to add other commodities and products.

    “The EU draft anti-deforestation law represents a major leap forward in the fight to protect the world’s endangered forests,” said Nico Muzi, Europe Director of environmental group Mighty Earth.

    But he said the law needs strengthening as it leaves out natural ecosystems such as savannahs, wetlands, and peatlands and fails to target rubber, which poses a big risk to forests.

    The proposed law will require companies in the EU to collect geographic coordinates showing where commodities they buy were produced, and to monitor these locations for forest loss via satellite images. read more

    Nicole Polsterer, a campaigner at NGO Fern, welcomed the law but added: “While today is a big step forward, the drivers of deforestation will remain as long as other markets exist for these tainted goods.”

    From 1990 to 2020, the world lost 420 million hectares of forest, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

     

     

    The proposal comes after more than 100 countries pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 at this month’s UN climate negotiations in Glasgow (COP26).

    Under the new rules, companies selling soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee in the EU will have to ensure that their production processes are not contributing to deforestation.

    Companies will be required to collect the geographic coordinates of the farm or planning area where the commodities are produced to allow traceability by national authorities in EU member states via satellite images.

    They will also have to submit a statement to confirm that they have successfully complied with mandatory due diligence rules – although this is not conditional to place products in EU markets.

    Rules will be simplified for companies sourcing from countries considered “low risk,” and enhanced for higher risks areas. The assessment of countries will be made by the EU Commission and be publicly available.

     

    ‘Deforestation-free’ goods

    The use of geolocation data and satellite imagery will help authorities to ensure that no commodities are allowed to enter the EU market if they are produced in land subject to deforestation or forest degradation after 31 December 2020 – the cut-off date defining a “deforestation-free” good.

    The proposed date corresponds to commitments made by the international community to halt deforestation like those included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the EU commission said.

    However, it is far less ambitious than the cut-off date proposed by the European Parliament in their own-initiative report. They argued that “the cut-off date must be set in the past, but no later than 2015”.

    Beyond soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee, new requirements will also apply to companies selling derived products, such as leather, chocolate and furniture – although, according to the EU commission, the list of products can be expanded in the future.

     

    Narrow scope?

    But Green MEPs and environmental NGOs considered the proposal insufficient at excluding products that have a proven negative impact on the world’s forests, like meat other than beef, rubber or maize.

    This is especially the case for rubber, considered a significant source of deforestation and human rights abuses, with devastating impact on forests and communities in southeast Asia and Africa.

    However, according to the impact assessment leaked in September, including rubber or maize in the scope would have required “a very large effort, with little return in terms of curbing deforestation driven by EU consumption”.

    The draft proposal has also been slammed for applying a narrow definition of forests, leaving savannas like the Cerrado, wetlands like the Pantanal and other ecosystems out of the legal scope.

    But the EU officials told reporters in Brussels that the legislation will cover four billion hectares, representing one-third of the earth’s surface – including areas considered to be ‘non-forests.’

    Greenpeace, for their part, has argued that the proposal fails to address the impact of the EU banking sector on deforestation.

    The world has lost around 420 million hectares of forest since 1990, mainly in Africa and South America, due to the expansion of agriculture activities dedicated to products such as soy, palm oil or cocoa.

    And the EU is among the world’s largest importers of tropical deforestation, being responsible for about 7 to 10 percent of it associated with international trade.

    But this new law is considered an unprecedented move to address both legal and illegal deforestation in producing countries.

    “The EU is sending a clear message to major supermarkets and retailers: one of the largest economies in the world simply won’t accept agricultural products linked to deforestation,” said Nico Muzi from NGO Mighty Earth.

    Europe is one of the biggest importers of global deforestation, second only to China. In 2017, the EU was responsible for 16% of deforestation associated with international trade, according to WWF.

    “EU demand for commodities like palm oil, soy, wood, beef, cocoa and coffee are strong drivers of deforestation. More and more citizens want us to put an end to this,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said as he unveiled the legislation.

    “Our proposal, therefore, creates a strong due diligence system. It ensures that we only import these products if we can ascertain that they are deforestation-free and produced legally,” he added.

    Once approved, the legislation will mean more focus is put on the production of beef, soy, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee products and derived products placed on the EU market.

    “Companies will now have to prove that their products have not contributed to the destruction of forests before they are allowed on the European market,” Delara Burkhardt, a German MEP who is designated land use and forestry spokeswoman for the S&D, told EURACTIV.

    “It is the companies, not consumers or certification bodies, who are responsible for ensuring that international supply chains are fair and sustainable,” she added, saying this is a win for the European Parliament, which was pushing for strict legislation on this.

     

    How it will work

    The regulation “sets the bar high,” according to the Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, and will introduce mandatory due diligence to companies both in the EU and beyond.

    Companies, including small and medium enterprises, will need to collect information about the products they have placed on the EU market from January 2021 onwards to confirm these are not linked to deforestation.

    This includes taking “adequate and proportionate mitigation measures, such as using satellite monitoring tools, field audits, capacity building of suppliers or isotope testing” to confirm the product’s origin.

    EU countries will have access to product information and can carry out inspections of imports. They will also respond to “substantiated concerns” and can suspend products from the EU market if they have “non-negligible deforestation risks.”

    Breaching the rules could mean operators and traders face fines, the confiscation of products and revenues, and other penalties.

     

    Missing protection

    While environmental organizations have welcomed the introduction of due diligence to tackle deforestation, they have criticized the legislation’s scope for being too narrow.

    “It pointlessly leaves out carbon-rich natural ecosystems such as Brazil’s Cerrado and Southeast Asia’s peatland – as well as rubber, an important forest-risk commodity,” said Nico Muzi, Europe Director of the NGO Mighty Earth.

    According to environmental organizations, ecosystems other than just forests needed to be included because they support the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples, house biodiversity, including endangered species, and act as carbon sinks.

    Rubber also should have been on the list of products because of its impact on forests, NGOs argue. For instance, since 2000, the Mekong region of China has lost three million hectares of the forest thanks to natural rubber cultivation, according to a report for the European Commission.

    Earlier this year, a group of lawmakers from the European Parliament, including the environment committee chair Pascal Canfin, wrote to the European Commission, calling for it to broaden the scope.

    Burkhardt, who also signed the letter, told EURACTIV that, while the legislation is a good basis for negotiation, there are weaknesses that need to be addressed. That includes areas like human rights, ecosystems and products.

    Asked about the scope of the legislation, Sinkevičius told EURACTIV that the main focus was on forests, not other ecosystems, and that the chosen products were based on a “very careful impact assessment”.

    “These are the products that have the largest impact on global deforestation. And these are the ones that we chose to address first,” Sinkevičius said.

    “The scope can be increased with time. We will be very vigilant monitoring the situation and ensuring that legislation is really fit for purpose. I do not exclude the possibility that, in the future, rubber might be included, but at the moment, it’s not in the scope. And that was the Commission’s political decision,” he continued.

    This refers to a review of the legislation that will take place no later than two years after it comes into force and could lead to a new proposal on both the products mentioned and the ecosystems affected.

    However, this review will come too late for areas like the Cerrado savannah in Brazil, according to WWF, which says almost 4,000 square kilometres of land have been destroyed this year.

    Similarly, Burkhardt told EURACTIV that rubber needs to be included now and that the European Commission interpreted a study into its impact wrongly. She added that Sinkevičius’ comment about the decision to exclude rubber being “a political one” might point to the real reason why it was dropped.

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