Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)

MR BOB ANDREW, MR ROBERT FORD AND MR TIM ROLLINSON

WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002

  140. You cannot point to any example whatsoever of you ever being able to act to report to even your line manager about any other department whatsoever?
  (Mr Andrew) I have not seen it as my remit to report on other departments' procurement activities.

  Mr Owen Jones: That is probably a question that we should direct to the Minister in some way.

Joan Walley

  141. If I can add to that, given the priority which has obviously been given to this by both Mr Meacher and the Prime Minister, was there no debate and discussion inside DEFRA, or whatever the department was at that stage, as to who should have the responsibility for delivery on the Minister's policy?
  (Mr Andrew) There was debate, yes, and because the responsibility for procurement is devolved, it was viewed that it was DETR's responsibility at that time to make the procurement policy known to the various departments involved, but it was seen as their responsibility to implement it.

  142. As DEFRA's responsibility to devolve it?
  (Mr Andrew) It was DEFRA's responsibility to communicate it and actually to make people aware of the policy, which I believe we did, although some people now claim not to have been aware of it.

  Joan Walley: I find this astonishing.

Chairman

  143. One of the points you made earlier, Mr Andrew, was that Government do not have the same flexibility as a private company because of Government procurement regulations. One of the points that has been made to us in evidence is that achieving success in this policy is very much a hands-on business. You have actually got to get down to tracking where the timber comes from, the actual forest it originates in, and talk to people who are delivering it, not just to a middle man because there may be more than one middle man. They may be able to put up a smokescreen or something. You need to talk to the people on the ground floor. You have got to have a clear-cut process of deciding what meets the criteria and what does not meet the criteria. It may be possible for an organisation like B&Q to do all this, which guarantees a reasonable level of success. Can the Government do this?
  (Mr Andrew) It is possible for the Government to do it. As a result of our policy, we hope and expect that more and more suppliers will be encouraged to seek and obtain certification for their products because practically there is no feasible alternative to actually providing the sort of evidence that we require, other than independently certified products. There may be but the procurement regulations do not allow us to require certified products to the exclusion of other independently verified evidence. As far as I can see, I am not aware of any other evidence that will meet that requirement. In fulfilment of this policy, I would expect there to be a significant increase now from suppliers in the level and quantity of certified products that are being offered to Government departments.

  144. Are you relying on the independent nature of this verification?
  (Mr Andrew) Independent verification is seen as the only credible means of testing a claim made by a supplier because, although self-declarations are recognised in public procurement regulations, with something like the issues involved in sustainable and legal timber, that is not viewed as critical.

  145. Putting this independent verification in place is a massive job, is it not?
  (Mr Andrew) It could be but if suppliers are encouraged to seek certification to FSC standards, or other standards that may be acceptable, then that is a solution. That is the one that government buyers would welcome.

  146. I am sure they would but the danger the whole time is that what appears to be certified wood is not in practice, once you get right down to the ground floor in the forest or the standard wood.
  (Mr Andrew) That is why the FSC certification scheme and other certification schemes exist, to give you that assurance that the timber is tracked from the forest which is well managed to the criteria and standards that are decided by the particular scheme in question. Then there is a chain of custody from the forest right through various processes to the finished product, be it a desk or whatever.

  147. That is the idea but we are rather concerned about how widespread this paper chain is right from the forest.
  (Mr Rollinson) Those certifications schemes that are being developed by the FSC scheme are really pretty robust in terms of the procedures built into them. It is never going to be the case that we are able to say that every certificate that comes out will be 100 per cent verifiable because human nature always intervenes in that process, but they are independently audited. They do require a complete chain of custody right the way through from the trees growing in the forest to the piece of wood that is being used in a piece of furniture or a piece of paper or whatever. There is a huge amount of work being done around the world to try to develop those schemes, led very much by the FSC. I would just make the following point. Obviously your focus is on what government departments are doing, but one of the major impacts of the statement the Government made has been a real wake-up call for the rest of the industry. The forestry industry itself, the people who are processing the wood, either domestically or overseas - and this is important - have now woken up to the fact that they are going to have a lot of trouble if they do not get their own house in order. They are now putting a lot of effort into trying to support the further development of these certification schemes around the world so that there will be a greater volume of certified wood available for government departments to buy rather than relying on existing suppliers as at the moment. I have absolutely no doubt at all that Michael Meacher's statement has really shaken up the industry in this country. It has also had ripples overseas. You now see that other countries - France and Germany - have recently made similar statements. In making those statements, they will know from our own experience that this is not simple and that they are going to run into potential problems. There will be banana skins along the way but I think that is the risk you run when you go into this area. I would say that there is a massive amount of work being done within the industry - this is not just about what Government does - and this is now beginning to be seen as a mainstream issue. They recognise the need to get their act together to develop chain of custody procedures, which are really quite complex and potentially burdensome for them.

  148. Is this FSC work going on in the critical forests in South America and West Africa, Indonesia and so on?
  (Mr Rollinson) That is another issue. If you look at the statistics on take-up of certification and the forests that are being certified under the FSC system, a substantial majority of them are in developed countries and not in those target areas.

  149. We have not yet got to the most vulnerable forests?
  (Mr Rollinson) It is a matter of sovereignty. It is a voluntary process and some of those countries have difficulty in that they do not have the capacity or they do not wish to enter into the certification schemes.

  150. That is a huge gap.
  (Mr Rollinson) It is. Part of the process that governments have been involved in around the world—we are closely engaged in the UK government in working through the UN processes following Rio ten years ago, in trying to develop and extend those schemes. There is a massive amount of work going on to try to make that work, but at the end of the day it is up to the countries themselves to decide whether or not they want to take them up.

Mr Jones

  151. It will become evident if it is in their interests.
  (Mr Rollinson) I work quite a lot on the international issues of forest certification. If you had asked me two years ago, "Is forest certification going to become a niche issue for a few countries who can afford to do it?" like the UK, probably two years ago I would have said it looked like it was going to be a niche game. If you put that question to me now, I would say it looks like it could quite quickly become very mainstream. Some international commentators are beginning to say that it may well not be far down the track, when essentially the international trade in wood products will be only in certified timber. If you reach that point, a whole series of issues that you are grappling with would be ironed out because everybody would have to get their acts together. I know you have heard from B&Q but B&Q are not in the position that the Government is in. They can pick and choose. They can say, "We will only take FSC certified products." The Government cannot do that because they are bound by the WTO procurement rules. If certification became much more mainstream than it is at the moment there would be a massive international effort. There would have to be. It would be in everybody's interests to make sure that all forests that were producing wood for world trade were certified, and that you have some drawing together, some commonality, of the certification schemes. At the moment, there are many certification schemes, some more robust than others and some making competing claims about others. If this all became mainstream, you would start to see that coming together in a way that is not happening at the moment.

  152. We are a long way off that.
  (Mr Rollinson) I am not so sure that we are. We are beginning to see international signals. If you talk to people in our importing trade, you start to develop a very different picture from the one you would have had two or three years ago.
  (Mr Ford) One way in which the range states could help themselves in developing certification is to list more of their timber, particularly their more sensitive timber species, on appendix three of CITES. The advantage of doing that is that the country that lists species has to issue an export permit but all the other range states have to issue a certificate of origin for specimens coming from those countries. You automatically have an audit trail. They also have to certify that that timber was lawfully acquired. It meets many of the requirements that we are trying to put in place in that you have a document which is issued by a government agency which certifies that it is lawfully acquired and which is a recognised certification process accepted in at least 158 countries worldwide.

David Wright

  153. I wanted to touch on the CITES arrangements. You said in your memorandum, "Under its current interpretation of the CITES provisions the government is broadly satisfied that effective controls are in place to regulate the trade in endangered or vulnerable timber species but feels that tighter controls are needed on those species that are only listed for monitoring purposes ...". You also mentioned that there was a Court of Appeal action taking place. What was the outcome of that?
  (Mr Ford) We have not got an outcome yet. We are still waiting a judgment which we are expecting in the next couple of weeks.

  154. We would need to have information as a Committee to determine what that judgment was.
  (Mr Ford) I can undertake to let you know.

  155. It would be helpful to know what implications that has for the Government's current policy position on CITES arrangements. Taking you back to visualising an area of forest in South America where forests are listed under appendices one and two, could you briefly take us through the process that would potentially take that timber from that particular location into use in the UK and what checks do you take and at what points does the Government intervene in that process?
  (Mr Ford) Appendix one is the most endangered category of species and the rule there is there should be no commercial trade in that species. Trade may only be permitted for research, education or artificial propagation purposes. The exporting country has to check with us first that we are prepared to issue an import permit. We have to be satisfied that they are prepared to issue an export permit. We have to be satisfied that trade will not be detrimental and that there are no other conservation reasons why we should not permit that trade to take place. The exporting country has to make a no detriment finding and consult a scientific authority to confirm that that particular shipment will not be detrimental to the conservation of other species. When it is imported into the UK, it comes under the European Union regulation where the species is listed in annex A of the Council regulation 338.97. That means it is effectively treated as appendix one, although there are some other appendix two and appendix three species which are included. We have to issue an import permit and consult our scientific advisers to confirm that the trade would not be detrimental.

  156. How would you determine that, for example, you have gone through the whole process and a shipment arrives. How do you know it is the shipment that was being discussed in the original country? How do you monitor that?
  (Mr Ford) Once the export permit is in process, we have to issue an import permit. Brazil would have to issue an export permit. Those two documents would have to be presented to Customs prior to importation. Customs would have to be satisfied that the shipment matched up to the documentation and there was X number of logs or cubic metres of timber in that shipment and certify that that quantity had been imported. Those documents are then returned to us for our records and we monitor that trade as having taken place.

  157. In terms of licensing, what proportion of applications are refused?
  (Mr Ford) It is difficult to say. I know we have issued 44,000 but I have not got any statistics on the proportion refused. I would guess something like one in ten. Most of the people who come to us are perfectly legitimate traders and have gone through all the process of getting all their certification done properly but there will be a proportion where we cannot be satisfied that that trade will not be detrimental. That applies also to appendix two, annex B species as well. Although trade may be permitted and although that exporting country may have permitted that trade to take place, if we in the EU cannot be satisfied that that trade will not be detrimental or find that there are other conservation reasons for refusing, or that there is some evidence to say that it was not lawfully acquired, we would refuse the import.

Mr Jones

  158. What happens in the case where you are describing that you are checking that the country of export was certifying and you were checking the papers for the country of import? What happens if the country of export is corruptly fiddling the documents? We have just seen Indonesia sending its logs to Malaysia and Malaysia sending them out as if they were Malaysian.
  (Mr Ford) There is anecdotal evidence that that has taken place.

  159. I saw it on TV.
  (Mr Ford) If we postulate a situation where the exporting country issues an export permit which on the face of it appears valid; it is issued by the appropriate person; it has all the relevant seals and certifications on it. Someone said to me that the person who issued that certificate is corrupt or there was some corruption in the line of certification. All I have is that person's word for it. I have no other means of confirming that.

 


 
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