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31 Jan 2006 : Column 306W—continued

Illegal Timber

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the UK Government's policy is towards legislation to ban illegal timber imports into the EU. [46427]

Mr. Morley: As part of the 2003 FLEGT Action Plan, the European Commission committed itself to exploring additional options to tackle illegal logging. This includes looking at outright ban on the importation of illegal timber. Government will need to look at the impact and practicality of such an option carefully, particularly the impact of requiring all timber to be identified as legal"; whether that could be enforced and the effect of such a measure on developing countries that rely on income from timber.

The UK Government believe that, in the long term, a multilateral approach would be the best way to tackle illegal logging. However, we recognise the need to build consensus with producing countries to achieve this. The Forestry Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) regulation, with its innovative approach of balancing bilateral trade agreements and development assistance for improving forest governance, will play a key role in realising this consensus.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make an assessment of the options for legislation to prevent illegal timber entering the UK. [46428]

Mr. Morley: As part of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan agreed in 2003, the European Commission committed itself to looking at additional options for preventing the importation of illegally logged timber into the EU. Government are frustrated at the time that it has taken the European Commission to produce this report and have made efforts at official and ministerial level to assist with its delivery.
 
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Preliminary research on additional options will now be discussed in Brussels on 31 January 2006. This will include an assessment of existing national legislation in the UK that could be used to prevent the entry of illegal timber by creating a market for legal timber supplies.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate the Government have made of the volume of illegal timber entering the UK in each of the past five years. [46628]

Mr. Morley: The UK is the world's fourth largest importer of wood products. However, we are unable to estimate how much illegally logged timber is coming into the UK as timber is not identified as legal or illegal at Ports of Entry.

Once the recently adopted EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Regulation comes into force it will enable member states to enter into Partnership Agreements with developing countries and provide them with assistance to tackle illegal logging. This assistance will include a licensing system designed to identify products and license them for export to the EU. It will be reinforced by powers for HM Customs to take a range of actions relating to unlicensed products from partner countries; this will allow member states to prohibit the import of illegal timber from those countries into the EU for the first time.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had about illegal timber in the past 12 months. [46629]

Mr. Morley: The Government have used their presidencies of the G8 and EU to really focus on the issue of illegal logging and to promote the FLEGT Action Plan.

Illegal logging was one of two topics of discussion at the first ever G8 Environment and Development Ministerial meeting in Derbyshire in March 2005. G8 Ministers agreed to a range of actions to tackle illegal logging and officials will meet in 2006 to review progress. Under the UK presidency of the EU, the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Regulation was adopted at the EU Agriculture Council in December 2005.

Defra works very closely with the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on illegal logging and Ministers continually raise the issue of illegal logging at appropriate bilateral and multi-lateral events. In particular my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Thomas) was present at the first ministerial meeting of the Europe-North Asia (ENA) Forestry Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) process in St. Petersburg in December 2005.

Ministers have also engaged in dialogue through a range of outreach events; addressed international stakeholder meetings at Chatham House and participated in Round Tables with Industry. Ministerial evidence was submitted to the Environment Audit Committee in November 2005.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what action the Government are taking to tackle imports of illegal timber. [46630]


 
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Mr. Morley: The principal action being taken by Government to tackle the import of illegally logged timber is implementation of the Forestry Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) regulation. This developed out of the European Commission's FLEGT Action Plan, published in May 2003. It describes a package of measures to tackle illegal logging, including proposals that the EU enters into partnership agreements with timber producing countries to establish a licensing system designed to identify products and license them for export to the EU.

The Government are delighted that the proposal for a licensing system was adopted by the EU in December 2005, under the UK's Presidency. Government believe that as a first step to address illegal logging, it is necessary to build consensus with producing countries and make sure that we do not discriminate against legitimate trade. The EU FLEGT licensing scheme, with its innovative approach of bilateral trade agreements and development assistance for improving forest governance, will achieve this in the first instance.

Although formal negotiations have not yet started with any country, discussions leading to negotiations have been underway with several countries where illegal logging is recognised to be a problem, and we hope that the first agreements will be in place during 2006. The UK is leading the negotiations with Ghana.

The Department for International Development (DfID) has recently announced that it will be setting aside £24 million over the next five years for this FLEGT negotiation process and for tackling illegal logging more generally.

The FLEGT Action Plan also proposes that the Commission look at other options to tackle illegal logging, including using Government procurement and introducing legislation to prevent the importation of illegally logged timber at a member state or EU level. They will be preliminarily discussed in Brussels at the end of January, after which a final report will be presented at Council to EU Ministers later this year.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures the Government has in place to quantify the volume of illegal timber entering the UK; and what targets have been set for replacing such imports with legal and sustainable timber. [46631]

Mr. Morley: The UK is the world's fourth largest importer of wood products. However, we have been unable to estimate how much illegally logged timber is coming into the UK as timber is not identified as legal or illegal at Ports of Entry.

Once the recently adopted EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Regulation comes into force it will enable member states to enter into Partnership Agreements with developing countries and provide them with assistance to tackle illegal logging. This assistance will include a licensing system designed to identify products as legal and license them for export to the EU. This will allow us to quantify the amount of legal timber entering the UK for the first time.
 
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The Department for International Development has committed £24 million for its illegal logging programme and we hope under Partnership Agreements, to establish licensing schemes with as many producer countries as possible.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what further plans the Government have for legislation on the import of illegal timber within the EU. [46632]

Mr. Morley: Following the adoption of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Regulation by the EU in December 2005, the focus of Government is on its implementation and the development of Partnership Agreements with producer countries.

We are waiting the results of the European Commission's Alternative Options paper. We have, along with other member states and civil society groups, been frustrated at the time it has taken the Commission to produce this report. However, we have encouraged the Commission—at official and ministerial level—to make progress and we are pleased that there is now to be an open workshop on analysing future options for EU member states Governments, industry and green groups representatives in Brussels on 31 January 2006.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment the Government have made of the EU Commission's proposals for further action on tackling illegal timber imports. [46633]

Mr. Morley: When the European Commission published its proposal to tackle illegal logging, the Forestry Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, it made the proposal for bilateral agreements and that it would investigate 'additional options' that went beyond this.

Government are frustrated at the time that it has taken the European Commission to produce this report and has made efforts at official and Ministerial level to assist with its delivery. Preliminary research on additional options will now be discussed in Brussels on 31 January 2006. This will include an assessment of existing national legislation in the UK that could be used to prevent the entry of illegal timber.


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