Our country is a hub for the timber trade in Europe, but the authorities must keep illegally harvested timber from our shelves. The federal government has committed itself to combating this trade by strengthening the current means of control. WWF calls on ministers to continue this commitment and calls for the establishment of a national centre of expertise that makes detection more effective.
Belgium is one of the 5 largest importers of wood in Europe. In terms of tropical timber, our country was in the first position in Europe in 2018. On average, almost a ton of tropical wood enters our market every day and more wood enters in the form of panels, ready-made furniture or charcoal, some of which are in transit, mainly through the Port of Antwerp. Unfortunately, not all this wood has been legally harvested abroad.
The species used for furniture and other wood products should be better controlled in order to reduce illegal logging. Currently, within the European Union, imports of timber and timber products are subject to the Timber Regulation, which obliges companies that want to place them on the market to apply the principle of ‘due diligence’. This means collecting as much information as possible about the lots they purchase and checking this information for reliability and risks, in order to prevent illegal timber from entering the supply chain.
Belgium imports 10 percent of its furniture directly from China, a country responsible for half of the illegal timber imports worldwide. WWF revealed in a recent study that some retailers sell products whose composition or origin they do not know, and therefore cannot know if there is no illegal wood. In these undeclared species, WWF discovered a lot of tropical wood from the Congo Basin or South-West Asia, and even a species of Rosewood protected by the convention on international trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
State-of-the-art methods for wood analysis help shed light on the composition of processed products. Belgium has two laboratories to identify wood species. The first is located in the Royal Museum for Central Africa, which was asked only 16 times last year to help identify a species, despite the large quantities of wood imported into Belgium. Customs also has its own laboratory. At the moment, it is not possible to analyse the origin of the wood or the composition of processed products such as OSB: samples must be sent abroad.
By centralising the tests for the detection of illegal timber, Belgium could be more autonomous in these controls, with greater efficiency and better coordination. Hans Beeckman, head of wood Biology at the Afrika Museum: “with its own expertise centre, Belgium would be able to implement faster and more efficient techniques to control the large flows of wood entering its market. The Belgian authorities and companies would have a point of reference at their fingertips to advise them.”
The federal government committed itself to strengthening the current means of detecting and combating illicit trafficking, including through the use of new scientific techniques. WWF supports the establishment of a modern center to carry out more scientific tests and analyses and to identify regulatory violations more effectively. “Responsible timber trading is our leverage to ensure that the forests that supply the timber we import do not fall prey to illegal logging. We expect the government to continue its efforts to develop effective analytical techniques to better combat and punish the illegal timber trade in our country. Worldwide, we estimate that more than 4.5 million hectares of forest supply wood for the products we import into Belgium,” says Béatrice Wedeux, policy officer bos at WWF-Belgium.