COMIFAC at CoP26: Private Sector – British Timber Federation, China Timber Association and Central African countries call for global governance of the world’s forests for greater equity.

COMIFAC Pavilion, Glasgow, UK, 06 November 2021

 David Hopkins, United Kingdom TTF during his presentation at the COMIFAC Pavilion at CoP26

Co-organised by COMIFAC, German Facilitation of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) and Timber Trade Federation of Great Britain (TTF UK), an important session on private sector took place on 6 November 2021, at the COMIFAC Pavilion at CoP26 in Glasgow, UK, on the theme: "Global Forests Need Global Governance".


This session brought together some sixty participants in person and online as panellists: (i) Mr. David HOPKINS, Director General, the British Timber Trade Federation, (ii) Mr. Ghislain MOUSSAVOU, Director General of Gabon Forestry, representing Central Africa, and Mr. Li JIAFENG, President of the China Timber & Wood Products Distribution Association (CTWPDA). The session was also attended by Mr. Chouaibou NCHOUTPOUEN, Deputy Executive Secretary of COMIFAC. It aimed to sensitize key decisions-makers on climate, forest and environmental policy, as well as leaders of private forest sector at the global level, on the need for global governance for the world's forests.


In his keynote presentation, Mr. David HOPKINS, stressed the importance of governance to support and address the challenges of forestry and nature conservation at COP26. He also recalled that illegal logging, deforestation and forest degradation are ongoing problems, but that we have ways to encourage change to reverse the trend, while encouraging sustainable investment and trade.


According to him, “the tropical timber sector has a key role to play in achieving the forest conservation goals targeted by COP26, and the private sector is ready to act, but cannot do it alone. Producer and consumer governments must unite to establish required enabling governance. Producer and consumer governments and private sector leaders must dialogue together to establish an incentive-based and equitable governance system which will benefit the conservation of forest ecosystems, the economic and social development of producer countries, and the market”. He also demonstrated, through diagrams presenting statistical data, the importance of tropical rainforests to the climate change mitigation objectives of COP26, the need to strengthen legality and sustainability in the tropical timber sector, and the essential role that governments can and should play in establishing favourable governance conditions, within their own actions and working with the private sector and other stakeholders as an international community.


Recognising in particular the value of Congo Basin as the last remaining forest with the potential to remain a powerful net carbon sink, Mr. David HOPKINS outlined the efforts of his Private Sector Association to facilitate a close relationship with trade associations in the COMIFAC VPA/FLEGT countries (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Republic of Congo) through sessions and workshops organised to achieve the Tropical Timber Agreement.


In addition, he expressed the growing frustration of the private sector to be preoccupied with governance requirements, while it is first and foremost the sovereign role of governments. "We need a new tropical timber agreement that streamlines and simplifies all the existing systems, implementing a robust, highly practical and universally accepted system within an international framework," he said.


Thus, instead of multiplying bilateral agreements, the desire is an international framework with a multilateral agreement with all interested countries: European countries, USA, China, etc. The aim is then to “define processes and support strong governance, recognise tropical timber standards, foster consumer markets to be rigorous in good governance and discourage those who cannot demonstrate it” ...  "We need a Secretariat and an international forum to effectively address international timber governance, improve value in countries, create jobs and economic development for those who depend on it.


Following this, Mr. Ghislain MOUSSAVOU, Director General of the Gabonese Republic Forests, highlighted all the efforts made by Central African countries, and Gabon in particular, to improve forest governance. In particular, he mentioned the numerous decisions, strong and courageous measures taken by Gabon over the last ten years to strengthen and promote legality, traceability and forest certification. Among others, (i) ban on export of log wood, promotion of wood processing, (ii) decision that all commercialised wood should be traced using a barcode that guarantees good governance from 2022, with certificates and verification systems, etc.


Unfortunately, these efforts made by governments of Central African countries, with a huge cost, are not recognised by governments and consumer markets. For him, it is a frustration that is neither fair nor equitable. To illustrate this situation, Mr. MOUSSAVOU compared the doubts and suspicions placed on the legality systems of Central African producer countries to those placed on Passports issued by these countries. However, Central African countries have full confidence in the legality of products from Western countries. This shows that progress is being made, but not sufficiently recognised.


"Our legal timber must be accepted in all markets, ..., we must agree on the credibility of the legality of timber from Gabon, Cameroon and other Central African countries and give it more value. To this end, we need a dialogue with partners at all levels, bilateral, multilateral, with China, USA, Great Britain and all other consumer countries, as well as the private sector, in order to agree on the standards of legality and ensure the credibility that gives value to our wood on international markets”.


According to Mr. MOUSSAVOU, Gabon's efforts continue. Gabon is currently working on a "Gabonese wood" label, with specifications that guarantee legality, take into account all environmental standards and wildlife management, with effective involvement of local populations. Gabon is working on this issue with ITTO, ATIBT and international NGOs to establish a set of standards (principles, criteria and indicators).


It is therefore important, he added, to establish an international framework to ensure that our products are effectively recognised as legal on the international market. Because important progress is being made by our countries, but not sufficiently recognised.


In turn, Mr. Li JIAFENG, President of the China Timber & Wood Products Distribution Association (CTWPDA) taking the floor online, said, "China could not physically attend the meeting, but has an important message to deliver at this session”. "We need to take advantage of forests to develop poorer countries economies, while taking into account the importance of these forests for carbon sequestration. According to him, "there are certificates with stakeholders in the timber industry, but a consensus is needed to determine the legality of the timber, to establish mechanisms for information exchange, with all stakeholders, to improve confidence.... There is a need to develop sustainable forest industry and timber supply chain. It is desirable to have less legality systems and certificates, but a consensus system that is accepted by all stakeholders, internationally.


The session ended with a question-and-answer session which raised some important points, such as the freedom of choice for consumers in relation to their level of trust which must always be guaranteed, and how to take into account the existing systems in which some countries have already committed themselves.

Jérôme Guefack

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