Last minute calls to delay EU deforestation law

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After decades of voluntary measures that have failed to halt deforestation, the EU is at the forefront of new regulations in a bid to reduce its role in forest destruction.

The regulation would require companies selling soy, beef, palm oil, timber, cocoa and coffee in the EU to guarantee and prove that their production processes are deforestation-free.

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More than 100 environmental and other organizations called on EU governments and the European Parliament to improve the Commission’s proposal. The French Presidency of the Council of the EU aims to reach a common position in June.

But some EU member states want to extend a two-year transition period to implement the new due diligence obligations, while others say they are concerned about the administrative burden that will weigh on small and medium-sized businesses.

On Monday February 21, Latvia said national authorities would need no less than six years to adapt.

Ireland is among the countries that have called for more time for small and medium operators, arguing that “awareness campaigns” were needed first.

However, this was not the position of most EU capitals.

Dutch Agriculture Minister Henk Staghouwer said the legislation should be passed quickly because “the agricultural sector is the main driver of deforestation worldwide”.

And Spain and Denmark were open to the possibility of including other deforestation-intensive products, such as rubber or corn, in the list of products subject to the new rules. This should please environmental groups, who have long called for the inclusion of such products.

Even so, other countries have challenged other parts of the regulations.

Finnish Agriculture Minister Jari Leppä has expressed concern about a deadline, set by the new regulation, which would ban imports of the six products if their production is linked to deforestation or forest degradation after the December 31, 2020.

Under the new rules, no product would be allowed to enter the EU market if produced on land subject to deforestation or forest degradation after that date.

But Leppä has called for a delay to ensure operators are not penalized for rules he says they could not reasonably have foreseen two years ago.

Other ministers also stressed that setting up a common traceability system will be both complex and costly. But a risk assessment showed no significant increase in costs, said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.

The EU is one of the world’s largest importers of tropical deforestation resulting from international trade.