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European Parliament approves law ensuring EU products are deforestation-free

Highway BR-163 stretches between the Tapajos National Forest, left, and a soy field in Belterra, Para state, Brazil on Nov. 25, 2019.
Highway BR-163 stretches between the Tapajos National Forest, left, and a soy field in Belterra, Para state, Brazil on Nov. 25, 2019. Copyright Leo Correa/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Leo Correa/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Christopher Pitchers
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Commodities, such as soy, coffee and cocoa, will not be able to enter the bEU Single Market if they come from deforested land.

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The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to ensure that a large number of products on the EU market are deforestation-free, a huge step forward when it comes to tackling environmental destruction.

Companies will have to prove that what they sell has no link to deforestation from 2021 onwards, both in Europe and throughout the world.

The list includes palm oil, coffee, soy, wood, cattle, cocoa, rubber, charcoal and printed paper, as well as derived products, such as beef, furniture, or chocolate.

Christophe Hansen, the lead MEP on the new law, said in an interview that the new rules are a significant achievement in the fight against climate change.

"We are losing every year around 10 million hectares of forests all over the world and this instrument is going to halt that, at least our part in the complicity in that deforestation because our shelves are currently filled with chocolate, coffee, etc., soy products that contribute massively to the forest destruction - around 10% of this 10 million yearly," the Luxembourgish MEP told Euronews.

"And with this, we now see all the products that are produced on the surfaces that have been deforested after 31st December 2020 will not be allowed anymore to enter the European internal market. So, I think this is a big step in combating climate change and, as well, global biodiversity loss."

However, many products are not included in the list, something Hansen said could change in the future.

"We have been from the Parliament side pushing for more and more ambition. We wanted to extend the territorial scope to other wooded lands. This has not worked, but we have a review clause after one year to eventually include this," he said.

"Secondly, we have a review clause after two years where we could include additional products, such as maize, but as well ethanol, for example, bioethanol that is produced out of sugar cane. 

"So, these products are on our radar and the European Commission needs to assess them. It makes sense to include them. So, I think we need to have a regulation that is applicable in the first place and then over time you can strengthen it once it is up and running."

Companies will have to provide information to the relevant EU authorities, like geolocation coordinates, from which satellite images of the area can be assessed for any possible forest degradation or deforestation.

If they fail to comply with the rules businesses can be fined.

Critics argue that the new measures will push up the cost of goods, but for Green MEP Marie Toussaint this price hike would only be in the short term.

"So, actually, what we try to push, is to push for one economy towards another model of economy - an economy, where we destroy the planet, where we destroy also conditions of lives for a certain number of people, towards an economy where we do respect nature and people," Toussaint told Euronews.

"And this can have, of course, a price that is felt on the consumers at the start, but in a really short time, this would change how the economy is structured and then the price wouldn't be so high for people. It would just be somehow a transition, a shift towards another model."

Protecting the rights of indigenous people is another requirement for products entering the EU market.

Once the rules come into force, businesses and traders will have 18 months to implement them, with smaller companies given longer.

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