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Governments fight illegal logging and promote sustainability through their purchasing

UNECE/FAO policy forum discussed how to avoid illegally and unsustainably sourced wood and paper products in national purchasing

Published: 10 October 2006

Governments are important market players. In the UNECE region the total value of state purchasing often exceeds 15% of the total national GDP. Wood and paper products which are highly versatile are used for various purposes. They are particularly environment friendly products and are often given advantage to other materials. To exclude illegally and/or unsustainably sourced wood and paper products in national purchasing, a few governments have set up public procurement policies, regulations and rules.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), held a policy forum on “Public procurement policies for wood and paper products and their impacts on sustainable forest management and timber markets” on 5 October 2006. Different stakeholders from exporters, traders, industry and NGOs presented their viewpoints and discussed the experience of countries with public procurement schemes in place.

Among the forum’s conclusions are:

  • There is strong political momentum driving the move to public procurement policies for forest products.

  • Only a few countries are really applying public procurement policies in practice.

  • Governments have a dual role, being both regulator and purchaser.

  • The “lead countries” are already working together.

  • The international legal environment is complex.

  • There are many difficulties with implementation, including the complexity of assessing certification schemes.

  • Market players expressed strong concerns about certain aspects of public procurement policies, including the procedures required, the diversity of approaches between countries, the risk of creating unnecessary trade barriers. In particular they felt that the market conditions in which they had to operate are being changed too often.

  • It was proposed that public procurement policies take into account a phased approach to achieving sustainable forest management.

  • A realistic approach to designing and implementing public procurement policies was essential.

  • Public procurement policies cannot solve all problems immediately: expectations should not be too high.

  • Public procurement can be a role model for private sector.

  • “Legality” is increasingly accepted as minimum standard.

  • It has proved challenging for designers of public procurement policies to allow for evidence of sustainability from certification schemes and from “alternative documentation”.

  • Public procurement policies could make it possible to avoid giving an advantage to illegal loggers and unfair traders.

  • Unsustainably or illegally produced wood is reaching markets in the form of value added products, thus circumventing public procurement policies which only cover primary products. Notwithstanding the technical difficulties, public procurement policies should also consider addressing value added products. Some countries are already doing this.

  • At present only wood products are subjected to public procurement policy requirements on sustainability. This fact, as well as possible excessive transaction costs, risk causing substitution by less environmentally friendly competing materials such as plastic.

  • The positive effects of public procurement policies on sustainable forest management are difficult to prove.

  • Public procurement policies can discriminate against small-scale or community run forest enterprises, and less developed countries.

  • There is a lack of information and statistics, as well as a need for transparency and inclusiveness.

  • Precision and simplicity should be balanced in a pragmatic way.

  • Public procurement policies should promote the use of sustainably produced wood.

  • Because of the complexity of the issues and the dynamic development, it is important for countries and stakeholders to exchange information, cooperate and coordinate actions.

The report of the policy forum will be made available in a UNECE/FAO Geneva Timber and Forest Discussion Paper. The presentations are available at http://www.unece.org/trade/timber/docs/tc-sessions/tc-64/2006PolicyForum.htm

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Christopher Prins, Chief

UNECE/FAO Timber Section
Palais des Nations, room 456
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Phone: +41 (0) 22 917 2874
Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 0041
E-mail: info.timber@unece.org

Ref: ECE/TIM/06/P05

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Palais des Nations, 

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44

Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05