EU reaches deal to ban products linked to deforestation

Access to the comments Comments
By Alice Tidey
A burned area of the Amazon rainforest is seen in Prainha, Para state, Brazil on Nov. 23, 2019.
A burned area of the Amazon rainforest is seen in Prainha, Para state, Brazil on Nov. 23, 2019.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Leo Correa

Many products that contribute to deforestation will no longer be importable and sellable in the European Union, under a provisional deal struck by EU legislators on Tuesday morning.

The agreement reached by representatives of the Council and Parliament covers 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.

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.

According to the WWF NGO, the 27-country bloc is the second biggest importer of deforestation after China and is responsible for 16% of deforestation associated with international trade.

"The new rules aim to ensure that when consumers buy these products, they don't contribute to further degrading forest ecosystems. Protecting the environment around the world, including forests and rainforests, is a common goal for all countries and the EU is ready to take its responsibility," Marian Jurečka, the Czech minister of the environment who led the negotiations for the Council said in a statement.

The deal is being touted as a major win for Parliament which added rubber, charcoal and a number of palm-oil derivatives into the text.

MEPs also worked on a wider definition of forest degradation that includes the conversion of primary forests or naturally regenerating forests into plantation forests or into other wooded land and the conversion of primary forests into planted forests.

The European Commission has meanwhile been tasked with assessing whether to extend the scope of the legislation to other wooded lands as well as other ecosystems and commodities over the next two years.

It will also assess whether EU financial institutions should be included and banned from providing services to customers if there is a risk that these services could lead to deforestation. 

"It wasn’t easy but we delivered a strong and ambitious result ahead of the biodiversity COP15 conference in Montreal," rapporteur Christophe Hansen (EPP, Luxembourg) said in a statement. 

"This important new tool will protect forests globally and cover more commodities and products such as rubber, printed paper and charcoal. Moreover, we ensured that the rights of indigenous people, our first allies in fighting deforestation, are effectively protected. We also secured a strong definition of forest degradation which will cover an extensive area of forest," he added.

Greenpeace described the new legislation as a "major breakthrough for forests, and for the people who stood up to them".

"Make no mistake, this law will make some chainsaws fall silent and stop companies profiting from deforestation," Greenpeace EU spokesperson John Hyland said.

But the NGO criticised what it says were the inclusions by EU governments of "loopholes for their logging industries, and giving flimsy protection for the rights of Indigenous People who pay with their blood to defend nature".

It also deplored the ability of companies that benefit from deforestation to get loans from European banks.

WWF also welcomed the deal with Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, senior forest policy officer at its European policy office, saying that "we have made history with this world-first law against deforestation."

"As a major trading bloc, the EU will not only change the rules of the game for consumption within its borders but will also create a big incentive for other countries fueling deforestation to change their policies. The law is not perfect but it includes strong elements," she also said.

But the NGO would have liked other ecosystems to already be included such as savannahs which it says are already under immense pressure from agricultural conversion and are important carbon stores and refuges for animals. It also views the definition of forest degradation as not "sufficiently ambitious".

The legislation now needs to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the European Council.