Sciencedirect-Certification of tropical forests: a private instrument of public interest? A focus on the Congo Basin
This article takes stock of the current process of institutionalising forest certification in the Congo Basin and analyses current interactions between the FLEGT process and certification. The article highlights the limitations of the VPAs concluded between the Congo Basin countries and the EU, and proposes a new distribution of roles between public and private instruments, namely the FLEGT/EUTR combined apparatus and certifications, and a mechanism of financial incentives based on differentiated forest taxation to support certified companies and encourage new ones to follow suit.
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Forest management certification seems to be stagnating or even receding in the Congo basin. This is attributable to the financial difficulties of some European companies, but might also be a consequence of unexpected interactions with the FLEGT process, which is lagging behind in the Congo Basin.
Although this process and private certifications are expected to be complementary, the reluctance of EU authorities to give certified timber a “green lane” for entering the European market may discourage concessionaires from seeking a stringent certificate. Meanwhile, the demand for timber is increasingly shifting towards markets in China and other emerging countries that are not ready to pay a “price premium”.
An underlying issue is the difficulty in qualifying the added value of certified timber over legal timber, although some research has shown how certification has closed loopholes in public regulations. Recognition of the public interest of certification could be achieved through fully trusting private certificates for due diligence procedures and, eventually, for obtaining FLEGT licences.
Public verification and traceability efforts would be re-centred on non-certified timber and the informal sector, which intersects with forest tenure issues. While some countries wish to make certification compulsory, this article prefers to propose the use of financial incentives through differentiated forest taxes, in order to preserve the credibility of standards, and it details potential mechanisms that could reinforce the independence of auditors.
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