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Indonesia may go back to illegal logging practices

A resurgence in illegal logging in Indonesia may be on the cards after the government declared that wood exports would no longer have to comply with a stringent legality check that took a decade to put in place. Sources: Timberbiz, Mongabay, Reuters

Under the new regulation issued by the Ministry of Trade, Indonesian timber companies won’t have to obtain export licenses that certify the wood comes from legal sources. The policy scrapping the so-called v-legal (“verified legal”) licenses takes effect May 27.

The government’s decision follows years of lobbying by furniture producers, who complained that obtaining the v-legal license was costly and time-consuming, and hurt their business.

The licensing requirement had been developed over the course of a decade as the integral part of Indonesia’s timber legality verification system, or SVLK, which was first rolled out in 2009. The SVLK system was meant to ensure all parties in the timber supply chain obtain their wood and timber products from sustainably managed forests and conduct their trading operations in accordance with existing laws and regulations.

Today, 100% of timber from both natural forest concessions and plantation forest concessions are SVLK-certified, although a small amount of timber from illegally logged areas still enters the supply chain. The SVLK system also helped improve the reputation of Indonesian timber, for decades widely known to come largely from illegal logging. In 2016 the European Union, one of the key markets for Indonesian timber and finished wood products, approved the SVLK as the basis for importing timber into its market. That made Indonesia the first country in the world to have its timber legality system recognized by the EU.

Abandoning this painstakingly developed system constitutes a “massive setback,” said Togu Manurung, a forestry economics expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB).

“This is a regression and could make the origin of timber unclear once more,” he said.

He warned that without certified verification, potential buyers had every reason to suspect that timber now coming from Indonesia might be illegal.

“So, if this [regulation] is implemented, it’s a massive setback and will tarnish Indonesia’s image,” Togu said.

Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests and a major timber producer, it has worked hard in recent years to stop illegal logging, protect its forests and meet its pledges to tackle climate change.

About a decade ago, Norway signed a $1-billion deal with Indonesia to protect its forests, including the introduction of a moratorium on new forest clearance to slow deforestation.

Indonesia lost 1.6 million-2.8 million hectares of forests annually before 2010, according to its forestry ministry.

Last year, Norway made a first payment to Indonesia for cutting carbon emissions after deforestation rates fell.