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Agriculture Forests

Tackling Deforestation and the Trade in Forest Risk Commodities: Consumer-Country Measures and the ‘Legality Approach’

By Duncan Brack
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The world continues to lose forests at an unsustainable rate. Deforestation contributes to climate change, degrades local environments, destroys habitats and biodiversity, and impoverishes forest communities and indigenous peoples. A significant proportion of this forest clearance has been illegal.

This brief proposes a “legality approach” – an attempt to reduce the level of illegal behavior in the production of the products in question, and to exclude from consumer markets products that are produced illegally. Much attention has been focused on measures to encourage or require consumer-country imports of timber to have been produced legally, or sustainably, or responsibly, in their countries of origin. In principle, these measures could be applied to agricultural commodities whose production is associated with deforestation.

  • The main advantage of such an approach is that it rests in the hands of the producer country, rather than a question of external standards being imposed. The main disadvantage is the inverse: that national laws may not be adequate to reduce the impact of production on forests.
  • A legality approach can often act as a stepping-stone to sustainability. Putting in place the mechanisms needed to track the movement of logs from the forest, or crops from the farms, through to consumption or export – necessary for a legality approach – is a big step towards establishing full chain-of-custody tracking.
  • Moreover, a legality approach may itself lead to improvements in laws and regulations, and in the long term may strengthen forest and land management, transparency, governance, and the rights of forest communities.