Forest area is increasing in Europe, mainly because there are fewer and fewer farms. This should be good news, but it needs to be put in perspective with the loss of forests that growing agricultural imports from the EU are causing in third countries. We call this âimported deforestationâ.
The European Union is the world’s main trader of agricultural products with imports totaling 142 billion euros in 2020. These imports include raw materials such as palm oil, beef, cocoa, coffee and soybeans. which are responsible for deforestation in the countries that produce them.
The case of the EU is not unique. Globally, tropical areas are losing forests at the rate of 10 million hectares per year according to the latest FAO report on forest resources, and temperate zones, which are increasing in forest area at the rate of 5 million hectares. per year.
Of the 10 million hectares of forest lost each year, just under two-thirds can be unambiguously attributed to agricultural expansion, with the remaining third being a combination of forest fires, logging and others. factors. About a third of the forest area lost is linked to international trade. By tackling imported deforestation, it is therefore possible to make a significant difference in the total loss of trees in the world.
Recognizing its role in imported deforestation, the EU is currently working to reduce the impacts of its imports. After the European Parliament adopted a report on the issue, the EU is moving towards a mix of mandatory and voluntary rules to tackle the problem. At the same time, some EU countries, such as France, have already put in place national strategies to fight imported deforestation.
How to fight imported deforestation
Preventing imported deforestation means knowing how to quantify the phenomenon and monitor it. For example, tropical timber from Africa can transit through China where it is processed before being imported into Europe. This means that we need complex chains of custody to track the origin of imported timber with the support of customs services and private companies.
Then there is the question of timing. Should Ivorian cocoa from farms that replaced forests destroyed in the 2000s still be recognized as an imported deforestation liability? We need to set a deadline after which products imported from an area can be disconnected from deforestation.
It is also necessary to take into account forest degradation. It is the reduction in the capacity of a forest to provide goods and services, which results in a reduction in tree density. Countries define forest degradation by setting their own tree cover thresholds, resulting in several hundred definitions.
For imported deforestation, the choice of this threshold is critical. If it is low, strong degradation can occur without this transformation being qualified as deforestation. If it is high, the conversion of vegetation with all the ecological characteristics of forests to agricultural land might not technically be considered deforestation.
Many sustainable production activities, such as selective logging, lead to forest degradation. But with good forest management, this degradation is limited and reversible.
The same principle applies to some forms of agroforestry (such as growing cocoa in the shade of forests) or collecting firewood in dry forests. The challenge is therefore not to avoid any degradation, but to control the factors that cause it in order to keep it within sustainable limits.
These various issues, at first glance technical, refer to political choices that are the responsibility of politics and the law.
Zero deforestation certificates
We believe it is necessary to distinguish between illegal and legal deforestation, relying on European timber regulations which prohibit the import of any illegally harvested timber.
Differentiating between legal and illegal is politically more feasible than boycotting agricultural production associated with deforestation which is legal in the producing country but considered environmentally problematic by the EU.
If legal agricultural production is banned, the EU would risk exposure to trade retaliation, not to mention complaints to the World Trade Organization for trade discrimination.
Ideally, producing and importing countries should agree on common definitions of the forest and on deadlines. But it will be a long and difficult process.
It seems more realistic to ban the importation of agricultural products resulting from illegal deforestation and to modulate the tariffs according to the information and guarantees provided by importers so that their production can be certified as âzero deforestationâ. These certifications would be accredited by the public authorities and would be subject to a continuous evaluation process.
Switzerland has just led the way through an agreement with Indonesia that lowers tariffs by 20% and then 40% for palm oil certified according to three approved standards.
A fair measure for small producers
In all cases, importers will need to comply with the legal requirement of due diligence to ensure that an imported product is not associated with illegal land conversion.
If there is not enough information on the status of the product and the import continues, the importer will not only have to fulfill their duty of care, but will also need to demonstrate that their product is zero deforestation in order to benefit a favorable customs regime. rate.
If due diligence suggests a high risk of illegality, the responsible importer will not market the shipment. If the due diligence is successful and no risk of illegality is detected, but the product is not certified as zero deforestation, a higher tariff is applied. If the due diligence is successful and the product is certified zero deforestation, it receives a favorable price.
Currently, many products such as soy or cocoa have 0% tariffs. The differentiation between zero deforestation products and others will require an increase in some of these tariffs.
The resulting additional income could be used to fund programs to help small producers in exporting countries adopt sustainable practices and become certified. Such an allocation would rebut accusations of protectionism and provide a good faith basis for defending this measure at the World Trade Organization.
As with any ecological tax, the objective of a zero deforestation certification system would be that the yield of the import tax decreases over time. Ideally, Europe would ultimately only import products certified as zero deforestation, correcting the global imbalance between the parts of the world that gain forests and those that lose them.
Illegal clearing by agro-industry leads to destruction of rainforest
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