EU reaches deal to ban import of products driving deforestation

A decision being immediately hailed as “historic”, the European Union on Tuesday reached an agreement to ban the import of products if they contribute to deforestation.

Palm oil, cattle, soy, coffee, cocoa, timber and rubber as well as derived products such as beef, furniture, chocolate, printed paper and selected palm oil-based derivates are the items covered by the provisional agreement reached by representatives of the European Council and Parliament.

It means companies will now have to carry and issue a “due diligence” statement that these goods placed in the EU market have not led to deforestation and forest degradation anywhere in the world after 31 December 2020.

The EU is the second-biggest market for consumption of the targeted products after China.

In his reaction, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “The battle for climate and biodiversity is accelerating.”

The draft law, which aims to ensure “deforestation-free supply chains” for the 27-nation EU, was hailed by Greenpeace as a “a major breakthrough” and WWF (World Wildlife Fund) as “groundbreaking” and “historic”.

Greenpeace noted that financial institutions extending services to importing companies would not initially come under the new law, but that they would come under review two years later.

“This regulation is the first in the world to tackle global deforestation and will significantly reduce the EU’s footprint on nature,” the WWF said in a statement.

Both groups called on the EU to go further, by expanding the scope of the law to include savannahs, such as Brazil’s Cerrado, which are also under threat by encroaching ranchers and farmers.

Illegal production has spurred massive deforestation in countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mexico and Guatemala.

During the past three decades, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates says, an aggregate area of land bigger than the European Union (EU) has been deforested around the world.

Pascal Canfin, chairman of the European Parliament’s environment committee, hailed the agreement, and how its impact would feed through to everyday items Europeans consume. “It’s the coffee we have for breakfast, the chocolate we eat, the coal in our barbecues, the paper in our books. This is radical.”

Both the European Council — representing the EU countries — and the European Parliament now have to officially adopt the agreed law. Big companies would have 18 months to comply, while smaller ones would get a longer grace period.

“The new law will ensure that a set of key goods placed on the (European Union) market will no longer contribute to deforestation and forest degradation in the EU and elsewhere in the world,” the European Commission said in a statement.

The European Parliament said in a statement that the law opened the way for technology such as satellite monitoring and DNA analysis to verify the provenance of targeted imports.

High-risk exporting countries would have 9 percent of products sent to the EU checked, while lower-risk ones would have lower proportions scrutinised.

Companies found violating the law could be fined up to 4 percent of annual turnover in the EU.

The legislation would be reviewed one year after coming into force, to see whether it should be extended to other wooded land.

Another review at the two-year mark would have the commission considering whether to expand it to cover other ecosystems and commodities, as well as financial institutions.

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