IMM survey examines trade impact of FLEGT licensing
The FLEGT Independent Market Monitor (IMM), hosted
by ITTO and supported by EC funding, has reported some
preliminary results of the 2018 survey of the European
trade (for more see www.flegtimm.eu).
Based on structured interviews with around 150
companies in the seven main EU markets for tropical
timber products (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy,
Netherlands, Spain and the UK), the survey assessed trade
views of the current and potential future market impact of
The survey built on and updated results of the 2017 IMM
survey which covered 126 companies in the same EU
countries. Reflecting the significant contribution of
furniture in the mix of tropical wood products imported
into the EU, the 2018 survey included coverage of a larger
range of furniture companies compared to the 2017
The survey highlights that the FLEGT licensing system is
now operating smoothly and easing access to the EU
market for wood products from Indonesia, which became
the first country to start issuing licenses in November
The survey also highlights that the combination of FLEGT
licensing and the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) is
changing purchasing practices in the EU. However, the
survey also highlights that licensing, in isolation, is
unlikely to transform the EU market for tropical timber,
and that broader market development strategies will be
required to drive significant increases in EU imports of
Compared to the previous year, a much higher proportion
of respondents to the 2018 survey found the administrative
process of importing FLEGT-licensed timber easily
understandable and manageable. This confirms
expectations from 2017, that the process was unlikely to
present significant bureaucratic challenges once importers
became accustomed to it.
The market introduction of FLEGT-licensed timber had no
negative impact on importers¡¯ tropical timber
procurement, according to survey respondents. 12% of
respondents reported a small increase in share and 1% a
Furthermore, in 2018, nearly all respondents said that
FLEGT-licensing made importing wood products from
Indonesia easier compared to the steps required for nonlicensed
wood to comply with EUTR due diligence
procedures. In 2017, a significant number of respondents
had partially (12%) or fully (20%) disagreed that licensing
simplified EUTR compliance.
On the other hand, responses to the question of whether
companies would actively prefer FLEGT-licensed timber
from Indonesia over unlicensed timber from competing
sources was more mixed.
Respondents remarked that FLEGT-licensing was a factor
that could impact purchasing decisions but only where
other product criteria were equal. Respondents emphasised
that legality assurance was one of several critical criteria ¨C
including price, quality, specification and logistics ¨C that
drove purchasing decisions.
The IMM 2018 EU trade survey asked for views of
whether FLEGT-licensing and the introduction of the
EUTR has had any direct impact on the share of tropical
timber in their overall timber imports.
A majority of respondents found that the share had not
been directly affected by either.
However, where EUTR is concerned, the proportion of
companies saying the share of total tropical timber in their
imports had decreased slightly (19%) or even substantially
(16%) because of its introduction was quite significant.
There was also a small proportion of respondents (2%)
that stated that the share of tropical timber in their imports
had increased following introduction of EUTR. This may
be explained by a shift in the market as some smaller
importers gave up direct purchases in tropical countries in
response to legality risks and instead purchase from landed
stocks of the larger importers. The latter are importing
more to make up the shortfall.
The 2018 survey shows that private certification schemes,
especially FSC, have profited from the introduction of
EUTR. Several survey respondents remarked that they
gave preference to certified timber since the EUTR came
into force and have used certification as a means of
compliance with EUTR due diligence requirements.
This effect was particularly pronounced in markets where
(FSC) certification of tropical timber products has
previously had a lower level of market penetration.
Several traders in Germany, France and Italy, for example,
reported ¡°big increases¡± in FSC certified timber purchases
due to the introduction of EUTR.
This contrasts with the Netherlands and the UK,
traditionally larger markets for certified wood, where very
few respondents reported significant increases in
procurement of certified wood due to introduction of
However, when trying to source (additional) certified
timber, several companies reported significant supply
restrictions, especially when sourcing from Africa.
When asked whether the market introduction of FLEGTlicensed
timber from Indonesia had had any impact on
their purchases of certified timber the overwhelming
majority of companies answered ¡°no change¡±.
UK agrees to recognise FLEGT licenses in event of
The UK and Indonesia have signed an agreement
committing the former to continued recognition of FLEGT
licences after Brexit. The UK Department for
Environment (Defra) confirmed the arrangement on its
twitter page on March 29.
The UK government committed to incorporating both the
FLEGT and EU Timber Regulations in UK law after
Brexit in 2018. However, Defra also advises online that in
the event of a ¡®no deal¡¯ departure from the EU, while UK
law for trading timber will have the same requirements as
existing EU rules, timber businesses will have to follow
different trading processes.
Operators will have to undertake due diligence on timber
and wood product from inside as well as outside the EU
and European Economic area, the only exception being
timber with a FLEGT licence or CITES permit.
If exporting to an EU or EEA country, UK companies may
also need to provide documentation verifying source and
legality of the timber so that customers can meet EUTR
due diligence requirements.
Also in the event of a no deal, the UK will continue to
recognise Monitoring Organisations based in the UK, but
will not automatically recognise those operating in EU or
EEA countries. The EU has indicated too that it will not
recognise Monitoring Organisations based in the UK in a
no deal scenario.
In the year ending November 2018, the EU imported
422,000 tonnes of Indonesian wood products, valued at
€794 million, of which the UK accounted for over 180,000
STTC and ATIBT to collaborate in marketing of
¡°verified sustainable¡± tropical wood
The Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC) and
ATIBT¡¯s Fair & Precious (F&P) branding campaign are to
collaborate in communications and marketing. Both
initiatives promote ¡°verified sustainable¡± tropical timber
in Europe and highlight the role demand for it plays in
incentivising the uptake of sustainable forest management
in tropical supplier countries and in preserving tropical
The two initiatives commend FSC or PEFC certification as
procurement criteria. But while both have voiced support
for the FLEGT VPA initiative and FLEGT licensing, with
the latter advising the African private sector on
implementation of VPAs and their impact on business,
neither is willing currently to endorse licensed products in
conjunction with certified timber.
In its latest strategy ¡®roadmap¡¯, the STTC lists as a key
action point the need to ¡®align where FLEGT stands in
relation to promoting verified sustainable tropical timber¡¯.
It acknowledged FLEGT as ¡®an important stepping stone
to sustainability¡¯ but said ¡®timber trading companies need
clarity on how to sell it¡±.
Under their cooperation agreement, the two will exchange
information and coordinate websites. They will jointly
produce six to eight newsletters annually, which will be
distributed to a combined database, and develop and
distribute a sustainable tropical timber marketing toolkit to
certified operators and F&P brand users.
They will also share and co-brand the annual STTC data
market report monitoring European sales share of certified
Building on tropical hardwood¡¯s construction potential
Advocacy for using timber as a mainstream modern
construction material is increasing in Europe and other
Faced with the need to satisfy growing global housing
need, while simultaneously reducing the construction
industry¡¯s environmental footprint, wood is becoming the
building material of choice for a growing number of
architects, engineers, designers and contractors.
Adding impetus to this trend are the development and
increasing application of more technically advanced
structural timber products. These are allowing the
construction sector to build bigger and ever more
ambitiously in wood and enabling it to compete head-on
with energy intensive rival materials, steel and concrete.
At the same time, there are early signs that architects and
others are looking to broaden their timber building product
palette, exploring the structural capabilities of hardwood
as well as softwood and, while it is yet to hit the headlines,
considering the possibilities of using tropical as well as
This could not only help provide much needed, affordable,
low carbon housing, but also act as an added incentive to
sustainably manage forests for timber production.
These are the main conclusions of interviews with leading
architects just undertaken by Mike Jeffree, a freelance
journalist and timber specialist who is consulting editor of
the UK Timber Trades Journal (TTJ).
While tropical timber has been used extensively in solid
form in bridges and other marine applications for a long
time, Netherlands-based Boris Zeisser is one architect who
sees its potential, in Europe and around the world, for a
broader spread of construction applications, including in
Zeisser has used tropical species extensively in his
buildings, and not just in more conventional applications,
such as cladding, roofing, decking, joinery and interior
fixtures. Where it¡¯s suited and the client wants it, he also
uses it in structurally, usually expressing the building
frame to complement other wood elements in the project.
Nor, unlike some, does he see tropical timber in
construction being limited to a market niche. Natrufied
uses it for mainstream public and commercial buildings,
private and social housing and it sees its combination of
looks, performance and environmental benefits (which, he
also believes, if sustainably sourced, include encouraging
maintenance of tropical forests) giving them potential for
increasing uptake in architecture generally.
¡°What we need is more training in their application, and in
timber use generally, at architectural schools,¡± said
Zeisser. ¡°I¡¯m now teaching at the Rotterdam Academy and
I, of course, cover tropical timber.¡±
He had little exposure to wood at college in the
Netherlands and the US, but his first job at the practice of
Erik van Egeraat gave him his initial experience. He
worked on the wood interiors of a concert hall in Breda
and a college in Utrecht and they featured more unusual
species for the time, including red cedar and bamboo.
¡°Then van Egeraat used padouk cladding on his own
house, which caused a stir and caught my interest,¡± said
He went on to launch his first practice 24-H, later leaving
to set up Natrufied.
With experience, his interest in wood use grew ¨C as did the
range of types he used. Projects included the Soneva Kiri
resort in Thailand which featured river red gum for floors,
stairs and other timber elements, a bamboo frame structure
and a variation on rattan for the roofs.
He also specified cumaru for cladding and balcony
flooring on a 13-storey block of flats in Nijmegen and
sucupira amerela and lauro gamela for joinery and
cladding in an eco-community housing project in Leiden.
In the same town he designed Marecollege. This is
another multiple species project, using keruing for flooring
and interior cladding, sucupira amerela for windows and
doors and lauro gamella for exterior cladding.
Zeisser described discovering the potential of tropical
hardwoods as a step by step process; use in flooring,
joinery and interior cladding led to exterior application,
The first project where Mr Zeisser used engineered
tropical hardwood structurally was a private house in
Cadzand. This includes seven different tropical species;
mahonie and wenge for interior cladding, coromandel for
interior furnishings, padouk for sunscreening, afromosia
for window frames and jatoba for doors, flooring and
The seventh species is iroko which comprises the glulam
structural frame. ¡°Where we use a glulam frame, it¡¯s
mostly larch, but we always show clients samples of
tropical wood as an option,¡± said Zeisser.
¡°Our tropical glulam is made by a contractor and doesn¡¯t
seem to pose any technical problems in manufacture. The
main issue is cost. Its strength means we use less, but it¡¯s
still about 1.5 times as much as larch. Even so people still
Natrufied has iroko structural frames for other buildings.
¡°And other tropical species would have been suitable for
the glulam, such as jatoba,¡± said Zeisser.
He stresses that he does not use tropical timber regardless.
¡°We aim to build in wood as much as possible, but that
could also be softwood, or a combination.
We propose tropical where its relevant and appropriate
structurally and aesthetically ¨C it won¡¯t do us, or tropical
suppliers, any good if it¡¯s used for applications where it¡¯s
With that proviso and better timber training for architects,
Zeisser believes tropical wood can make a still greater
structural impact. Even more so if the construction sector
and consumers understand that ¡®in creating a market for
sustainably sourced tropical species it can underpin
Mike Jeffree¡¯s interview with Michael Green, a leading
Canadian architect, suggests that the opportunities for
timber in construction are literally ¡°sky high¡±. Green
authored the influential book ¡®The Case for Tall Wood
Buildings¡¯ which has boosted worldwide interest in the
potential for high rise timber construction.
While the mass timber market that this would create would
likely be dominated by softwoods, Green reckons there
will be good niche opportunities for tropical hardwoods,
He also emphasises the strong potential for modern forms
of timber construction to satisfy the massive demand for
high density, cost-effective, energy-efficient, carbon
neutral, low-pollution, fire-proof and earthquake resistant
buildings in emerging markets.
Green¡¯s architectural practice MG-Architecture (MGA)
has been one of the leading lights in North American
timber building since its establishment in 2012. Among
MGA¡¯s projects are the Wood Innovation and Design
Centre in Prince George, British Columbia, formerly, at
29.5m, the world¡¯s tallest modern, all-wood structure.
MGA was also responsible for 220,000 ft2 T3 office
development in Minneapolis, billed as the first modern
timber building in the USA for a century. The practice is
now aiming higher still. Its entry for the R¨¦inventer Paris
urban regeneration architectural competition comprised a
large-scale commercial and residential complex featuring
the 35m Baobab Building.
In 2018, MGA became part of the $3 billion Silicon
Valley tech and construction group Kattera, the company
behind a 250,000ft2 cross laminated timber (CLT) plant in
Spokane, Washington. The move, said Green, would
grow MGA¡¯s impact in North America and beyond and
¡®advance our agenda on design, quality, sustainability and
The basis of Green¡¯s confidence in the capacity of timber
to ¡®disrupt¡¯ the modern construction industry lies in the
development of the new generation of mass/engineered
wood products, including CLT, laminated veneer and
strand lumber and glulam.
These, he says, present architects with the ¡®first legitimate
reason to revisit what the future of building looks like¡¯ in
150 years and have the potential to revolutionise
construction globally as much as the dawn of building in
steel and concrete.
¡°Mass timber represents a major shift,¡± said Green. ¡°These
panels and beams that come in large formats and perform
so much better in fire and structurally than established
lightweight timber frame, enable us to build bigger. Not
only that, they can be better understood and assimilated in
building cultures where wood construction is not prevalent
and concrete and steel are the default structural materials.¡±
Green also maintains that, due to its suitability for
prefabrication, rapid build times, low waste, relative
lightness, plus, critically, its low environmental footprint,
mass timber building is ideally suited to development of
urban centres at a time when urbanisation and urban
construction densification are accelerating worldwide.
¡°Wood is the ultimate in rapid renewable building
materials. It¡¯s got the lowest water footprint and the lowest
carbon footprint ¨C it actually sequesters carbon.
It¡¯s low energy to process and transport, delivers energy
efficient buildings and you¡¯re not hauling non-renewable
resources out of the ground when using it, as you are in the
case of concrete, steel and the fossil fuels you need to
make them,¡± he said.
¡°So, as urbanisation happens, wood is finding this new
form ideally suited to urban environments, with new
products and approaches that are easier for other building
cultures to comprehend.¡±
Modern mass timber building has its origins in central
Europe and may now be growing most rapidly there, in
North America and other developed regions using
temperate softwoods. But Green sees its greatest potential
economic and environmental impacts coming in
developing countries, including in the tropics.
¡°My personal interest is in how this whole movement in
construction will ultimately address the needs of the
developing world,¡± he said. ¡°In South America and Africa,
for instance, there is great opportunity.
In both regions, urbanisation is happening much faster
than Europe and North America and, at the same time, the
rate of deforestation is among the highest in the world,
with the loss of habitat and carbon emissions that causes.
¡°But they have these fast growing species, such as blue
gum, which are renewable on a 10-12 year cycle and could
be ideal for making products like laminated veneer and
strand lumber. Currently there isn¡¯t the technical capacity
to manufacture and use these materials at scale in these
regions, so they¡¯re building more and more in old school,
unhealthy ways to cope with urbanisation.
But industries from areas where mass timber is established
could share their expertise and help develop that capacity.¡±
This in turn, according to Green, could be part of the
solution to halting, even reversing deforestation.
¡°Certification schemes have advanced sustainable forest
management to a degree in these regions, but alone
they¡¯ve struggled to create a sound argument for not
taking the immediate financial return of a deforestation
and redevelopment programme,¡± said Green.
¡°Often currently a better economic argument is seen in
selling off the trees for initial financial benefit, then
converting the land to more profitable agriculture, soya or
palm oil plantations or development. But these new
higher added value engineered timber products could
provide the incentive to adopt sustainable forest
management and even reforest, plus the materials to
develop the lower carbon building approaches so urgently
What could also give added impetus to wood building in
the developing world, he said, is a change in mindset on
the value of timber plantations.
¡°I certainly don¡¯t want to see the destruction of old growth
forest to accommodate plantations. But properly located,
managed well, with the right rotation and restoration of
nutrients to the soil, they can be beneficial, both in terms
of reducing the attraction of clearing natural forest and in
providing the construction timber needed.¡±
To achieve this shift in attitude and assist the spread of
wood construction internationally, Green also advocates
greater accord and cooperation between the timber and
timber building industries, environmental certification
schemes and NGOs.
¡°There is already growing appreciation that they have
shared values; timber companies are recognising that
environmental groups can be valuable partners and
environmental groups that timber companies have an
economic incentive and a commitment to managing forest
sustainably, but there¡¯s still room for improvement,¡± he
¡°In particular we need to move on from the view that one
size fits all when it comes to certification. There should
be more adaptation to regional and local environments,
conditions and needs, and to develop the understanding for
this in turn requires greater investment in forest science
and forest schools worldwide.¡±
Looking forward there is growing consensus in the
construction sector that, given the volume of housing
needed, particularly in urban centres, combined with ever
more stringent environmental controls, the move to
building in wood can only accelerate.
¡°We¡¯re making this construction soup and the only
ingredient you can throw in flat out and come out carbon
neutral is timber,¡± said Michael Green.
Meanwhile, Boris Zeisser reiterates his belief that wood
construction can also become an increasingly potent tool
for adding value to forests worldwide and helping avert
conversion to alternative uses, such as cattle farming,
particularly in tropical regions.
¡°That¡¯s how I explain to clients and students why using
sustainably sourced tropical hardwood can be among the
most environmentally positive ways of building,¡± he said.
¡°As our Netherlands Timber Trade Association says on
tropical wood, it¡¯s a case of ¡®use it or lose it¡¯. It¡¯s a choice
between having forests full of trees or fields full of cows.¡±