† Consumers are informed about the origin of the wood
The new regulations regarding the timber trade will come into effect on January 1, 2022.
When buying a notebook, laying parquet or installing a pellet stove, the consumer must be informed about the type and origin of the wood used. From 1 January, the traceability of wood must be documented. Timber from illegal logging and products made from this material will be banned from the Swiss market.
Some consumers are already dispensing with origin-indicated wooden products, explains Laurianne Altwegg, environmental, agriculture and energy manager at the Francophone Consumer Federation at Keystone-ATS. If it “comes from Brazil, for example, it could alert some people to a possible participation in deforestation”.
Improve the offer in the market
However, given the large number of affected products and the lack of information on many of them, it is currently difficult for consumers to make an informed choice, continues Laurianne Altwegg. “Because the mandatory declaration of origin of wood only covers a few products, most consumers do not know which of the many derived products and whether the wood is illegal.”
According to her, the responsibility therefore lies with the traders. It therefore welcomes the new legal standards. “It is necessary to improve the offer on the Swiss market.”
Under the revised Environmental Protection Act, passed by Parliament in 2019, and the Timber Trade Ordinance, timber traders will have to fulfill a duty of care when first importing timber into Switzerland. This obligation does not apply to timber and derived products already placed on the Swiss market.
They will have to ascertain the type of wood, the country or even the region of origin or the data about the harvest. A system must enable them to prove that they have followed the procedure.
duty of care
A risk analysis will also be required. In case of high risk, traders will have to reduce this to a “negligible level”, for example by requesting additional documents from the supplier. There is a “high risk”, especially if the home country’s corruption perception index is below 50 – this scale runs from 0 to 100, from “very corrupt” to “very little corrupt”.
The legislative change will also apply to timber harvested in Switzerland when it is first placed on the market. Swiss timber is considered legal if the legislation has been followed during harvesting. The control over forest owners already lies with the cantons.
The Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) monitors the import. It will be according to the risk: the checks will mainly focus on large quantities of wood and imports from risk countries. If a company fails to fulfill its duty of care, the manager risks a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine.
Extensive range of products
If the change doesn’t change anything for Swiss exporters, it will require more bureaucracy for importers, says Keystone-ATS Daniel Ingold, director of Cedotec, the Office romand de Lignum, the umbrella of the Swiss forest and liquor economy.
Talks are underway between FOEN and the branches to “find the way that won’t have too many administrative barriers,” he explains. And to discuss industry solutions to provide tools to members.
Resellers and retailers will also be affected by the law change. They will have to be able to demonstrate where the wood they buy comes from and to whom they resell it.
The traceability of the wood will have to be known for a wide range of products. In addition to notepads, parquet and pellets, building materials, kitchen furniture, photo frames and wine barrels are also affected.
On the other hand, furniture made from used or recycled wood will not be. As well as packaging that is solely intended to protect the contents, such as paper bags, but also bamboo products.
Not just illegal wood
The new legal provisions should make it possible to combat climate change by slowing down deforestation and the loss of biodiversity. It is a first step, but the measure is not enough, said Johanna Michel, deputy director of the Bruno Manser Fund, contacted by Keystone-ATS.
The fight against deforestation and sustainability are not guaranteed by only focusing on illegal timber. “Just because the wood has been legally harvested doesn’t mean it’s been harvested sustainably,” she says. And to ask Switzerland to ban the import of all products with a direct link to deforestation, as proposed by the European Union (EU) in November.
The revised law should also make it possible to remove barriers to trade between Switzerland and the EU, which has already banned the marketing of illegal timber. Almost 95% of Swiss timber is exported to the EU, worth 1.5 billion francs a year.
Also in the other direction, most of the wood imported into Switzerland comes from the EU, where filtering is already possible, says Daniel Ingold. The revised law is a first step towards bilateral recognition between Switzerland and the EU, he said.
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