ENB - 59th Session of the International Tropical Timber Council

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The fifty-ninth session of the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC), the governing body of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), opened in Pattaya, Thailand, with a call from the host country for ITTO to continue promoting legal trade in tropical timber and encouraging the use of wood derived from sustainable forest management (SFM). To fulfil their mandate, ITTC member countries took some crucial decisions to navigate the challenging financial and organizational conditions that have buffeted their organization in recent years.

 

Most importantly, delegates took steps towards a decision, by mid-2024, to extend its founding agreement up to 2029, thus buying some time before negotiations toward a new International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) must begin. They also agreed to trial a new approach to encourage members that are in arrears with their financial contributions to “catch up” on payments, by allowing part-payment to count towards restoration of some privileges. Crucially, member countries fully supported the Secretariat’s efforts to fundraise with renewed vigor, and to position tropical timber in the context of current international interest in, and support for, action on climate change and biodiversity loss.

 

ITTC-59 was also a venue for debate over the new European Union Deforestation-Free Regulation (EUDR), which entered into force earlier this year. ITTO’s Trade Advisory Group and the topical timber Producer caucus made strong statements to the Council, as they anticipate smallholders and industry actors will face challenges in complying with the EUDR’s requirements for geolocation and traceability. In response, the EU asserted that the EUDR will give smallholders, women and local communities a stronger position in the supply chain, and enable them to gain a better price for their products. This debate looks set to continue in future meetings.

Despite the busy meeting, many participants took the opportunity to go on a half-day field trip on Thursday afternoon, 16 November, choosing from options to visit a teak plantation, an agarwood plantation, or to the Laem Chabang port and forest checkpoint close to Pattaya.

At the end of the week, the Council formally adopted five decisions. In addition to the most important decision to decide by 1 June 2024 on extending the ITTA, 2006 to 2029, ITTC-59 endorsed projects for SFM and related objectives, adopted its budget and work programme for 2024-25 with an annual budget of USD 7.1 million, and agreed to a four-year trial period allowing members in arrears to still submit project concept notes for possible funding, subject to certain conditions.

At ITTC-59, Executive Director Sheam Satkuru highlighted ITTO’s wealth of on-the-ground experience, its unique mandate on tropical timber, and the relevance of its work to climate change and biodiversity goals. Discussions during the week showed that delegates in attendance were eager to reposition the organization, after a decline in funding in recent years, as a serious actor in the global environment and trade arena.

 

A Brief History of the International Tropical Timber Organization

The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) was established in 1986 over concerns about the world’s tropical forests and the countries that depend on them. Originally focused on regulating trade in tropical timber as a commodity, it quickly began also to address issues of conservation and sustainable management. Today, it also works to address other challenges affecting tropical timber trade and sustainable management, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation.

The ITTO, which is headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, currently has 75 members, divided into two caucuses: 37 countries in the Producer caucus and 38 countries, including the European Union (EU), in the Consumer caucus. ITTO’s membership represents about 90% of world trade in tropical timber and 80% of the world’s tropical forests.

The ITTO was originally established by the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA), which was negotiated under the auspices of the UN Conference on Trade and Development. The ITTA, which was adopted in November 1983, entered into force in April 1995.

 

ITTA: The ITTA was originally set up for a limited period of time. It remained in force for an initial period of five years and was extended twice for three-year periods. Since then, it has been renegotiated on two occasions.

 

ITTA, 1994 was the first successor agreement. It was negotiated during 1993-1994 and adopted in January 1994, before entering into force on 1 January 1997. ITTA, 1994 contained broader provisions for information sharing, including on non-tropical timber trade data. It also allowed for consideration of non-tropical timber issues as they relate to tropical timber, and included the ITTO Objective 2000 for achieving exports of tropical timber and timber products from sustainably-managed sources by the year 2000.

 

ITTA, 2006, which is still in force, was the second successor agreement to the original ITTA. It focuses on expanding and diversifying world trade in tropical timber economy and the sustainable management of the resource base. ITTA, 2006 entered into force on 7 December 2011.

Originally, ITTA, 2006 was due to expire in 2021. This was subsequently extended to 6 December 2026. A major focus of discussions in recent years has been whether ITTA, 2006 should be extended further to December 2029, or renegotiated instead.

 

The Governing Body—ITTC: The governing body of the ITTO is the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC). It includes all members and meets annually. Annual contributions and votes are distributed equally between Producers and Consumers.

The Council is supported by four committees. These committees, which are open to all members and provide advice and assistance to the Council, work on the following issues: Economics, Statistics and Markets (CEM); Reforestation and Forest Management (CRF); Forest Industry (CFI); and Finance and Administration (CFA).

The Council is also assisted by the Informal Advisory Group (IAG), which meets just prior to Council sessions to produce recommendations that the ITTC may wish to consider. There is also a Trade Advisory Group, a Civil Society Advisory Group, and the Expert Panel for the Technical Appraisal of Project Proposals (EP).

 

Recent Events: In the early to mid-2010s, the ITTO experienced some difficulties. First, there was disagreement over the appointment of a new Executive Director in 2014, which was only finally resolved in 2016. Secondly, an investigation was held into the loss of ITTO funds through two failed investments. These issues were eventually resolved, although it took considerable time and energy to do so.

More recently, the annual meetings of the ITTC have focused on issues such as developing a new financing architecture, securing more project funding, and streamlining project cycles. There has also been considerable work on policies for, and engagement with, key stakeholders such as women and youth. The issue of extending the ITTA, 2006, has also been a major focus over the past few years. A decision on this is expected in 2024.

 

ITTC-59 Report

ITTC opened for its first face-to-face session since the global COVID pandemic at the bayside city of Pattaya, Thailand, on Monday, 13 November. The meeting was hosted by the Royal Forest Department, part of the Thailand’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Mohammed Nurudeen Iddrisu, Chair, ITTC-59, opened the meeting, saying tropical forests are “in the eye of the storm” of current devastating natural phenomena and international conflicts. He called for consensus on a new ITTA and increased efforts to achieve ITTO’s mission.

Thawatchai Srithong, Governor, Chonburi Province, Thailand, welcomed everyone, noting Chonburi hosts Thailand’s Ecological Corridor Initiative, which incorporates economic goals, innovation, technology, and sustainability.

Poramet Ngampichet, Mayor, City of Pattaya, expressed hope that productive discussions at ITTC-59 would be inspirational for managing tropical timber.

Roberto Seminario Portocarrero, Peruvian Ambassador to Japan, identified ITTO’s important role in forest restoration, use and competitiveness of timber products, market information, legal and sustainable supply chains, biodiversity, climate adaptation, and forest-dependent communities’ livelihoods. He stressed the need for more financing.

Surachai Ajalaboon, Director-General, Royal Forest Department, Thailand, highlighted the Department’s role as the national focal point in Thailand, and expressed appreciation for the cooperation of Chonburi Province and Pattaya city authorities for hosting the conference.

Chayanan Pakdeejit, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand, noted the challenge of combating illegal logging, adding that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) regional forum had recognized this issue at its August 2022 meeting. She called for promoting legal trade in timber, cooperating with stakeholders, especially those in the private sector, and encouraging use of wood derived from sustainable forest management (SFM). She highlighted the importance of ITTO supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts and building resilience.

Ana María Prieto Abad, Colombian ambassador to Thailand, noted that ITTO has been instrumental in promoting the interests of both producer and consumer countries. She commented that extending the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) of 2006 would not be an ideal scenario, but expressed support for the work of the preparatory group to analyze the issues and recommend possible decisions that the ITTC could take regarding improvements to operational efficiency of the institution, financial architecture, priorities for action, and regional decentralization.

Sheam Satkuru, Executive Director ITTO, urged delegates to exercise “shared and joint responsibility” among their diverse membership, and between the membership and the Secretariat, noting that the organization has gone “beyond expectations” in enhancing its relevance in the global arena.

The plenary then adjourned for the Consumer and Producer groups to meet.

 

Executive Director’s statement: On Monday afternoon, Satkuru invited participants to observe a moment of silence in observance of the deaths of former ITTO Secretariat staff members John Leigh and Hiras Sidabutar.

She then reported on activities and developments, thanking Japan, China, the US, and Germany for their voluntary financial contributions for 2023. She reported members’ concern regarding the benefits of paying assessed contributions to ITTO, given that some other funding sources do not require assessed contributions and there is a perennial shortage of voluntary funding for ITTO projects. Satkuru highlighted ITTO’s dual mandates of achieving SFM in tropical forests and diversifying the trade in legal and sustainably sourced wood products, also noting its relevance to climate change and biodiversity goals. She called on members to provide information on their efforts to nurture the Organization, stressing the value of publicizing the benefits of the ITTO’s work and the challenges remain in all three Producer regions. She stressed that ITTO cannot represent the interests of countries in arrears, especially given donors’ interest in regional projects. She also commended the example of three Producer member countries that had recently paid their assessed contributions a year in advance.

Peru, for Producer caucus, recognized the challenge of gaining member participation in Council meetings, and observed that external factors such as countries’ own financial crises, and lack of project financing could be leading to lack of enthusiasm among members. He committed to seek bilateral aid to support member countries’ participation.

Satkuru emphasized the important role of national focal points.

 

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