Should EU plan be given another chance?
IT will be interesting to see whether Malaysia will finally decide to support the European Union's (EU) new timber regulation that will come into force in January next year.
Despite 2012 being the deadline year, judging by the snail's pace Malaysia is taking to sign the bilateral voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) with the EU on its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, the accord might not even take place after all.
The EU FLEGT provides a number of measures to exclude illegal timber from markets, to improve the supply of legal timber, increase the demand for responsible wood products and support good forest governance.
Negotiated since 2007, Malaysia's VPA with the EU has hit snags at many levels. The latest was the EU's move to expand the scope of its ruling outside the legality and sustainability issues as claimed by Malaysian timber exporters.
They claim that the EU has added non-certification requirements including the prohibition of logging on the Native Customary Rights land, human rights protection and also, questioning the Malaysian authorities' credibility when issuing timber licences to local players.
The additional requirements demanded by the EU, in fact, does not blend well with local timber players particularly from Sarawak. Sarawak is Malaysia's largest producer of timber and timber products with exports worth RM7.2bil in 2010.
The FLEGT action plan measures was considered too strict, so much so, many Sarawak players had even indicated that their timber exporting days to the EU are numbered as the latter's timber regulation has gone beyond local timber players' ability to comply with.
Since the EU market only represents about 2% of Sarawak's total timber and timber products export, its timber players should focus on other major traditional markets like Japan, the United States and India.
Worst case scenario, some quarters say Malaysia might even follow the footstep of its peer Indonesia by pulling out of the stalled VPA negotiation and stop exporting to the EU altogether.
On the other hand, there are some quarters which are still supportive of the EU's FLEGT.
The Malaysian Timber Council and Timber Exporters Association, for example, still harbour strong hopes to see Malaysia sign the VPA with the EU this year before the EU timber regulation is fully enforced in 2013.
For one, the local timber sector would be able to enjoy the “green lane” treatment under the FLEGT into the EU and internal market access.
Furthermore, the FLEGT is seen as an important marketing tool for local timber producers and exports as it allows them to boost their sales in the EU market and also gives a quality label to Malaysian timber in the global market.
So why not the entire local timber industry try work together and also, give the EU FLEGT another chance?
At present, a majority of Malaysian timber players have obtained internationally recognised certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council and the International Tropical Timber Organisation.
● Deputy news editor Hanim Adnan wonders whether the FLEGT Action Plan and timber regulation is another ploy by the EU to restrict tropical timber exports into its market?