Landmark EU law to eradicate deforestation from its commodity supply chains is finally agreed!

After almost a decade of campaigning by EIA and colleagues across civil society from Brussels to Bogor, the EU has finally agreed a new regulation seeking to ensure only deforestation-free and legal products are imported or exported.

In the early hours of Tuesday (6 December), the three institutions of the EU – the Parliament, Council and Commission – jointly approved the final version of the deforestation-free products regulation.

EIA Forests Campaigner Vanessa Richardson said: “We have been campaigning for this landmark regulation for the best part of a decade now. The EU has recognised its role in consuming commodities produced through deforestation and is finally acting to address it.

Oil palm plantation on deforested land, Indonesia (c) EIA

“This regulation is ambitious, going beyond legality to ensure that products are not just legally produced but are also free of deforestation and forest degradation.

“Strong traceability requirements will mean that companies will have to know exactly where their products have come from, right back to the geolocation of production. It’s not perfect, but it’s a first-of-its-kind, groundbreaking regulation.”

Behind the scenes, EIA has provided EU decision-makers with multiple technical briefings, sharing our three decades of experience in tracking the illegal trade of timber and enforcement of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR).

In public, we have supported the mobilisation of more than a million people and 200 NGOs through the #Togther4Forests movement, sending many joint open letters, attending meetings with the EU and urged it to be bolder on elements such as human rights, enforcement, scope and transparency.

We have also been urging the EU to develop meaningful partnerships with producer countries to address the root causes of deforestation, support national processes and create systemic changes to forest governance.

In September, the European Parliament voted on a version of the text which was more ambitious. In this final version, we did not get everything we wanted, although wins include an expansion in product scope from the original proposal (palm oil, cattle, timber, coffee, cocoa and soy) to now include rubber, charcoal, printed papers and many more palm oil derivatives.

EIA has extensive experience on the negative impacts of palm oil and behind the scenes has supported allies in the EU with the data and evidence needed to make their cases.

Beef cattle in Brazil

We also urged decision-makers to include robust enforcement mechanisms to close existing loopholes in the EUTR and ensure, for instance, that minimum penalties are imposed across all EU Member States and that all competent authorities also check a minimum percentage of companies from all areas of deforestation risk – our sources have said both of these elements have been retained.

There has been little public information on the implementation of the EUTR, especially on enforcement, compliance and corruption. Public reporting of non-compliant parties will be urgently needed and it remains to be seen what the EU has agreed.

Other elements have been left out entirely, such as a requirement to respect international human rights – instead, the regulation relies only on national legislation; if a producer country has laws to protect indigenous peoples and local communities who depend on and protect the forest, those rights will have to be respected. But if a country does not have such laws, the new EU law will not ensure communities’ land and other rights are not abused.

Many other progressive elements have been left for consideration in a planned review of the regulation in a couple of years, such as how to ensure deforestation is not displaced into other wooded lands and ecosystems, or the need to include financial institutions that fund deforestation and the abuse of land rights.

Richardson added: “We now have to make sure the regulation will be enforceable and delivers what is says on the tin.

“EIA, together with our partners around the world, will share a deeper analysis once the final full text is released. We’ll then need to roll up our sleeves and get back to work to ensure we can leverage this progress to not only stop the EU’s contribution to deforestation but to encourage the rest of the world follows suit.”

After the final text is published, the law will enter into force 20 days after its formal adoption by the EU Parliament and EU Member States, expected in 2023.