At least 10 percent of global deforestation is associated with importing and exporting products in and out of the EU. A new EU law shall prevent this deforestation in future. On 12 July 2022, the EU Parliament’s Committee on Environment has clearly supported a tightening of the Commission proposal on deforestation-free supply chains. In contrast, the Council as the second legislator of the Union, has severely watered down the Commission proposal.
A football pitch every 90 seconds – this is how much tropical forest is lost because the countries of the European Union import products such as soy, palm oil, beef, timber, cocoa or coffee. According to a Proposal for a Regulation by the EU Commission from November 2021, European companies shall be obliged to ensure "deforestation-free supply chains". Based on geolocation data, importers and major traders will be required to prove their commodities’ origin. Apart from that, they have to gather information on deforestation risks and associated human rights violations in their supply chains and take appropriate action. Otherwise, there is a risk of fines, confiscation of non-compliant products, or temporary exclusion from procurement procedures for these products.
At the end of June 2022, the Council established its negotiating position (general approach) for the final negotiations with the EU Parliament, which, from AK’s point of view means a huge step backwards compared to the original Commission proposal. In contrast, on 12 July 2022, the EU Parliament’s Committee on Environment has clearly come out in favour for a more ambitious approach. Hence, the supply chains of more productgroups, such as poultry and rubber, shall be covered by the Regulation. Apart from that, not only forests but other eco systems shall be included. In addition, the Committee requests improved protection of the rights of indigenous people.
AK requests improvements, in particular in respect of human and labour rights
Whilst the Council declaration only provides for compliance with relevant legislation of the country of origin, AK, together with NGOs requests to directly include compliance with all internationally recognised human and labour rights (e.g. ILO Core Labour Standards) in the Regulation. Fact is, that often deforestation and forest degradation are directly associated with serious human and labour right violations. However, as provided for by the Council position, the production of goods “in accordance with the relevant legislation of the country of origin”, would mean that conditions of production would have to be assessed differently – in accordance with country of origin and legal system. This would mean compliance with completely different regulations depending on country of origin and would not create a common standard of protection for employees. In addition, the Regulation should be supplemented by civil liability for damages caused by breach of due diligence requirements.
“Forest degradation” shall apply to all forests
According to AK, the term "forest degradation" used in the Regulation has to be defined in such a way that it is scientifically justified and applies to all forests, not only to primary forests. Recently, numerous scientists have signed a joint letter to the European Parliament, in which they supported such a strong definition of forest degradation.
Regulation must include more products and more eco systems
The Council position does not provide for including the destruction of other highly biodiverse and climate-relevant eco systems such as savannas and wetlands in the Regulation. Apart from that, due to the current formulation, deforestation might shift from covered to noncovered commodities and products. To prevent this from happening, a comprehensive approach, which protects eco systems and takes into account all relevant commodities (including rubber and corn) as well as all relevant products (such as poultry and pork for example) is required.
Improving traceability and geolocation of products
The Council proposal has also weakened geolocation by stipulating that in case of areas below 10 hectares only a single geocoordinate has to be specified for localisation purposes. This makes it impossible to clearly identify whether deforestation for producing commodities and goods has taken place or not. Hence, ‘polygon mapping’ has to be applied to enable the clear specification of all land area boundaries, which are used for production. Only then will real traceability and inspection be possible.
What comes next?
In September, the EU Parliament will make a final decision on this initiative and use this position to enter trilogue negotiations with the Council and EU Commission. Until then, it is necessary to keep the pressure on, in particular on the weak position of the Council.