Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening. I can honestly say it's a great pleasure to be here. We are here today because we share a common concern. We all want action, not words, on illegal logging.
Last Tuesday I was in Malta. I was there for a tree planting ceremony. 28 primary school children planted 28 small trees – one for each EU Member State. I was moved to think about how these children will have a living link to that day. They will have a personal association with 'their' tree, with the birdlife it hosts and the land it enriches.
Those children are lucky to have such a literal association. But we must all make the effort to cultivate the same associations.
Illegal timber imports have multiple consequences. We think of climate change, of biodiversity loss, of soil. We think of instances where timber trafficking leads to corruption, or finances conflicts. And when legal processes are by-passed, it encourages a throwaway culture, where valuable resources are simply used and then dumped.
That's the exact opposite of what this Commission is trying to encourage. We want to move Europe towards a more circular economic model. To do that, we need to respect valuable raw materials like timber, and ensure they keep their value for longer.
Illegal timber has a real cost. It's not just a question of economic models. These are also environmental and social costs. It means someone losing their livelihood. Maybe even their home.
That's why the Commission is so strongly opposed to illegal logging wherever it happens. That's why we are determined to reduce it and to avoid its economic, environmental and social impacts.
In 2013 we took a big step in that direction with the Timber Regulation.
Two years later, everyone active in the trade must show that their timber is from legal sources. And we have penalties for companies that don't play by the rules.
I said it was a big step. It is. But it is important to remember that this step is a part of a bigger process. That's why we continue to work closely with the Member States and with everyone active in the market. I can stand here today and report good progress. However, as we all know, there are still some important gaps to be addressed.
I can also assure you that addressing those gaps is a continuous process. We are supporting Member States in their implementation efforts. We have set up a communication platform. We have developed guidance. And we are encouraging Member States to share their experiences, both good and bad.
And we also take action and use pressure when we have to. We have launched infringement procedures against Member States that are lagging behind. You can track the progress to full implementation on our scoreboard.
All this is paying off, and in the past year we have seen significant progress in implementing the Regulation.
One of the reasons I am here today is because I also want to salute your work. Civil society organisations such as yours, are doing an outstanding service in identifying and tracing illegal timber. The work you have done in gathering evidence of wrong-doings has been invaluable.
We take the information provided by civil society organisations very seriously, and as you have seen, we always raise any well-substantiated allegations with the Member States in question.
When Greenpeace reported on concerns with illegal logging in Brazil, the competent authorities and the Commission closely collaborated in investigating the case. We involved NGOs, and set up close contacts with national and regional authorities there.
As a result, the Brazilian authorities prevented timber exports from several companies, as they were shown to be non-compliant with Brazilian law. And here in the EU, operators changed their supply chains. Now they operate with negligible risk, and they comply with the requirement for due diligence.
There are other investigations which are also on-going. One might say that we are still in the early days of this legislation, but we already have tangible results.
And at this point I want to be very clear. There is no room for complacency on this file. Not in the Commission, and not anywhere else. We are all very aware that much remains to be done.
So work continues. The first review is under way. We are checking what works and what doesn't, and seeing whether some elements are particularly successful – or not.
As I already mentioned, we are still in the early days. This evaluation comes very soon after the Regulation became applicable. Whenever Europe adopts new legislation, it always takes a bit of time to understand and to come to terms with the challenges, and to learn from the experience.
We are getting our input from many sources. One recurrent suggestion is to widen the scope of application, to cover a broader range of products. For this and other points, it will be crucial to receive input from relevant stakeholders. Events such as this one today, with the material presented by the organisers, are highly appreciated.
Of course, I cannot promise anything because I cannot prejudge the outcome of our evaluation. What I can promise is that its results will be used to improve the implementation of our Regulation.
As you probably know, the Timber Regulation isn't the only tool in the box to fighting illegal logging. We also have a number of Voluntary Partnership Agreements, which we know improve governance in timber-producing countries.
The Commission is also reviewing the wider FLEGT Action Plan, and considering a deforestation action plan. Illegal timber is a scourge, but isn't the only cause of deforestation. Over the coming months we will be looking more closely at other policies that might be effective against deforestation. So, all in all, next year will be an important year for the EU’s timber policy. And like you, I'm looking forward to it.
To conclude, and before I give the floor to the other speakers, a special word of thanks to the organisers WWF, in association with Kingfisher, IKEA, and Carrefour. Not only for organising this important event, but also for their inputs, which are a key element of ongoing reviews.
I mentioned at the start that we all need to make an effort to ensure our association with the importance of trees in our lives.
It is clear that you are already doing so, and I do hope that many others will follow in your example.
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