Progress on bipartisan policy to tackle global deforestation: The FOREST Act has been reintroduced to the US Senate and House of Representatives

Forests Dec 6, 2023
Kerstin Canby

On Thursday, November 30, Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Mike Braun (R-IN) introduced the FOREST Act to the United States (US) Senate. It was also introduced in the House of Representatives, with Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brain Fitzpatrick (R-PA) as original co-sponsors, making this a bicameral, bipartisan introduction.

First introduced in October 2021, the Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade (FOREST) Act would make it illegal for companies to import products of illegal deforestation, as defined by countries’ rules and regulations. Deforestation is a leading driver of climate change, displacement of people, and decimation of ecosystems and biodiversity. Global commodities such as soy, cattle, timber, cacao, and palm oil tend to be produced by clearing large swaths of land in forest countries. Up to 66% of agricultural land conversion in these countries is illegal.[1]

Many see the FOREST Act as “a critical step in tackling global deforestation and forest degradation, climate change, and biodiversity loss while promoting good governance and leveling the playing field for responsible businesses at home and abroad.” [2] This has been a big year for forest commodity trade regulations – the European Union Regulation on Deforestation-free Products (EUDR) came into force in June and is the strongest regulation of its kind in the world.

The FOREST Act is based on a legality standard rather than a zero-deforestation standard (like the EUDR). In other words, the rules and regulations of export countries will dictate what will be deemed “illegal deforestation” under the FOREST Act, not whether deforestation took place. Our team analyzed the implications of those nuanced differences last year, which can be accessed here.

As NGO signatories to an open letter to the 117th US Congress and Biden Administration put it in 2021:[3] The US is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of agricultural commodities and it must not lag behind. It has a key role to play in setting standards for trade and finance that promote good governance and protect people and the ecological integrity of the world’s remaining forests.

The FOREST Act includes provisions to:

  • Prohibit agricultural commodities produced on illegally deforested land from entering the US market;
  • Require companies to carry out and report on risk-based due diligence, including supply chain traceability, on imports of commodities linked to deforestation;
  • Increase U.S. engagement with and support for countries taking meaningful steps to improve governance and reduce deforestation;
  • Strengthen tools to tackle deforestation-related corruption and financial crime; and
  • Establish a federal government procurement preference for zero-deforestation products.

We applaud this step US lawmakers are taking towards cleaning up forest commodity supply chains – an essential part of curbing climate change, protecting biodiversity, and supporting forest communities. We hope the US will join the existing global leadership on trade regulations that aim to squeeze out forest commodity production that is illegal, damaging to forests, and harmful to the people in forest countries.

[1] Dummet, C., Blundell, A., Canby, K., Wolosin, M., and Bodnar, E. 2021. Illicit Harvest, Complicit Goods: The State of Illegal Deforestation for Agriculture. Forest Trends: Washington, DC.

[2] Open Letter to the 117th Congress and Biden-Harris Administration Urging Support for the FOREST Act as a Critical Tool to Help Tackle Deforestation and Associated Crime. 2021.

[3] ibid

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