This is a complex technical subject, yet it lies at the heart of the Big Question of how we protect the world’s most precious natural forests, while providing a sustainable economic future for developing countries like Indonesia.
So far this ultimate prize on wood legality and traceability has proved to be elusive.
On the contrary, one of the biggest problems facing producers, purchasers, NGOs and regulators is that we are not yet able to share an agreed meaning for wood legality. The end result is confusion all round, especially if you are a consumer who genuinely cares about conservation and reducing poverty in the developing world. When you buy paper in Sydney, London, Paris or New York, how can you be sure it has come from a sustainable, responsibly-managed source? You may see a label for one of the independent certification schemes, but the problem again is that they offer different (and competing) standards. There is a crying need for something bigger, backed by governments, and with a proper law enforcement mechanism.
Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to the goal of achieving of common global standards on wood legality. It will only happen through a process of gradual alignment of national standards, underpinned by bilateral or multilateral agreements between nations or trading blocs.
Thankfully, after a long period of inertia, 2011 will be remembered as a year of significant progress. Indonesia signed two Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with Japan and the European Union (EU), which are designed to create precisely that alignment on wood legality and traceability.
Let’s consider in more detail the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) VPA which was signed by the Indonesian government and the European Union in Jakarta at the start of May 2011. The VPA will ensure that Indonesia timber exports to the European Union comply with both Indonesian legislation and EU forest law and trade policy. When the VPA comes into force (March 2013), European consumers and businesses will have the legal reassurance that they are not purchasing products made from illegally harvested timber. Indonesian exports to 27 EU countries will be certified by licensed and independent certification body. The VPA covers bilateral trade worth about $1.2 billion between Indonesia and the EU. But – very significantly – Indonesia has agreed to extend the process to all of its timber product exports, which are worth nearly $10 billion a year. As a result, a significant foundation stone has been laid for the creation of those common global standards on wood legality and traceability.
It was a proud moment when Indonesia became the first Asian country and the largest timber exporter to sign a bilateral deal of this kind. And APP can also claim its part in this story. The company undertook a FLEGT-SVLK pilot project at its PT Lontar Papyrus Pulp & Paper operation and its pulpwood supplier, PT Wirakarya Sakti in Jambi Province, Sumatra in 2009. This was designed to test the proposition that EU forest law and trade policy could actually be aligned with Indonesia’s own national standards on wood legality and traceability – Sistem Verifikasi Legalitas Kayu (SVLK).
It is probably accurate to say that SVLK is not as well understood as a national – and international – standard as it should be. That’s why, in March 2011, the Indonesian pulp and paper producers joined the country’s leading trade associations and companies involved in exporting wood-based products to pledge their support for SVLK, calling on other countries to recognise and endorse it.
So what is SVLK? It is the foundation of Indonesia’s wood legality and chain of custody (CoC) certification program, enacted in 2009, which establishes strict legality and verification systems to ensure wood products exported from the country are legal and traceable to verified points of origin.
SVLK covers all aspects of the supply chain – company’s licensing, traceability system, and legal trading (transporting & exporting). APP and all other companies working with wood-based products have to comply with the SVLK regulations.
Like all true sustainability policies and processes, SVLK is painstaking in its detail. The section on Sustainable Forest Management and Timber Legality Verification runs to 46 pages of finely detailed standards and guidelines which must be followed.
For a company like APP, which has spent years developing and refining its own Chain of Custody policies and practices, regulation like SVLK is very welcome as a benchmark for the company to meet. Compliance towards SVLK regulation would be a legal safeguard for customers.
As a major player in the Indonesian pulp & paper industry, APP also wants to play its part in helping align SVLK with other national and regional standards, as Indonesia has so successfully achieved in 2011 with Japan and the European Union.
Despite the complexities ahead, is it too fanciful to aim for those much-prized common global standards by 2020? We believe it can be done.