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Fern warns of EU’s free trade deal with Japan

European non-governmental organization (NGO) Fern says the EU’s new free trade deal with Japan threatens global efforts to tackle illegal logging, including its own action plan. Source: FLEGT

Fern is a Dutch foundation created in 1995. It is an international NGO set up to keep track of the European Union’s involvement in forests and to coordinate NGO activities at the European level. Fern works to protect forests and the rights of people who depend on them.

The deal, which was agreed in July 2018 and is in the processing of being ratified, is the Fern believes it is a missed opportunity to promote the trade in legal and sustainable timber and improve forest governance and that it contradicts EU’s commitments to use trade to pursue sustainable development.

They point out that a study of the deal’s potential impacts — published by the European Commission in 2016 — concluded that the agreement would boost economic activity which would increase incentives for illegal or unsustainable practices in countries from which Japan sources its timber and wood products.

In an article published on, Fern’s trade and forests campaigner Perrine Fournier says the deal “could also sabotage the EU’s own fight against illegal timber”.

“The increased pressure on the world’s forests the pact is likely to herald, is down to three things,” Ms Fournier said. “First, Japan’s long history of importing illegal wood products. Second, its toothless laws to prevent this happening. Third, the weak text of the EU-Japan agreement.”

While Japan has introduced a law promoting legal timber trade, it is voluntary. The EU-Japan trade deal, meanwhile, has no enforceable measures preventing the trade in illegal timber.

Ms Fournier says the deal would be unfair to companies in the EU, which are prohibited from trading in illegally sourced wood, as it would allow their Japanese competitors to do so.

She adds that the deal would discourage Japan’s supplier countries from taking strong action against illegal logging.

Fern is calling on the European Parliament to partially suspend the ratification of the agreement so that “significant changes” can be made to avoid undermining the global fight against illegal timber.