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Timber, Trade and Deforestation: Two Meetings.

March 17, 2010

A UNECE/FAO/WTO expert group, and the REDD Policy Board consider the issues this week

As part of the ongoing efforts to address the interface between sustainability and trade associated with the work of all three of UNECE, FAO and WTO, an expert meeting will be convened on Tuesday next week to discuss ‘Emerging Trade Measures in Timber Markets’ in Geneva.  The meeting will immediately precede the annual joint FAO/UNECE Working Party on Forest Economics and Statistics. 

The meeting is just one of a number of initiatives throughout the year in a ramp-up in activity to address deforestation, which has been given a new lease of life by the REDD component of the climate change negotiations: – Deforestation is a major cause of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

That the co-host is the WTO echoes the focus in 2010 on Natural Resources and trade of the annual WTO issues report, as discussed in a previous post on this blog.  Indeed, one of the workshop background documents is the (excellent issues overview) WTO Economic Research and Statistics Division-commissioned staff working paper literature review of trade and deforestation.

Even today, the fourth policy board meeting of the UN REDD Programme is meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.  We know that on Wednesday the Board members will have a ‘field visit’, while more issues of substance will presumably be discussed on Thursday and Friday, though the information promised on that agenda is not yet forthcoming.  We hope that the Board member opportunity to ‘interact outside of the standard meeting setting and to build relationships’ is productive (and they wear appropriate footwear).

Meanwhile, back at the coal face in Geneva (coal is just metamorphosed plant matter, after all) the economists will be considering, between nibbles of dark chocolate and strong black coffee:

The full agenda can be found here.  The workshop is open to the public – space permitting.

There have indeed been some very promising concrete developments of late that go to the core of market-drivers of deforestation.  The US Lacey Act amendment to ensure that ‘due care’ is taken by importers to ensure legality of imported wood and wood products is a potent market mechanism that could significantly alter the landscape (metaphorically and physically, we hope), and lead to a much more diligently-pursued and audited legal timber trade.  The proposed EU regulation could yet produce something similar, building on the EU Voluntary Partnership Agreements initiative.  These initiatives could very much drive increased demand and higher prices for legal timber, while devaluing the benefits of illegal trade. 

Great – right?

Not necessarily (completely).  As the WTO background paper points out, not everything is always as clear-cut as it seems:  reducing the value of unregulated timber by reducing demand for it may actually lead to its’ more rapid demise. 

The field trip may help the REDD Board members consider some of these complexities a little more. 

Developing countries are going to need to undertake a lot of hard work to better understand and govern the market and social dynamics around deforestation.  There is only so much that assuring the ‘legality’ of timber can achieve, if that status does not properly address the underlying issues.  OECD countries are moving to assist to meet this need through bilateral aid. 

Attempting to create some uniformity for trade purposes (Doha Trade Round?) while nations are struggling to unpick the problems and develop standards and laws is a challenge indeed.

(I’ve actually mentioned three meetings in this post, for those who spotted it…..)

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