This June, the Global Timber Forum (GTF) held its second session in Shanghai, China, bringing together over 100 representatives of the private sector as well as a number of governmental, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations that work with the forest products sector.
International forest policy meetings and institutions are nothing new; there is a wide range of existing bodies, including FAO, UNFF, ITTO, and many others. The GTF is unique, however, in that it brings together primarily private sector players to talk about these issues from their particular viewpoint. In UN-style meetings, the private sector sits in the back row and is rarely given the chance to speak. At the GTF, which was founded in 2013,companies and industry associations are in the driver’s seat.
While the GTF aims to bring together the forest products sector around a wide range of issues concerning the trade, much of this meeting focused on the challenge posed to the forest products industry by the emergence of laws and regulations mandating various forms of legality verification for wood products sold in major markets including Australia, the European Union, and the United States.
Industry associations combine small, medium and large enterprises from various parts of the forest products supply chain. They are also an important source of information for their members on updates to legislation and regulations while also providing a channel for expressing concerns and requests to governments. Since forest legality has become a key compliance issue in the US, EU, and Australia, associations have the potential to significantly help their members by providing information about available tools and resources andconducting trainings, as well as establishing a code of conduct for members that includes legality as one of its tenets.
As part of this year’s second GTF meeting in Shanghai, the Forest Legality Alliance (FLA) was asked by the forum organizers to conduct a needs assessment of the timber industry associations present to find out how these associations currently support their membership in legality verification and what role they could play in the future. Stay tuned for further information as we analyze the results of our needs assessment.
Going forward, the GTF may evolve into an important international forum, providing a counterpart to government-dominated forest policy processes. Indeed, frustration with UN-style intergovernmental processes is increasing, due to their exclusionary character, their focus on negotiating texts, and their seeming inability to rise above the lowest common denominator. While national governments are by no means the only actors with power and influence over the world’s forests and the trade in forest products, key international forest policy discussions and negotiations, such as the ITTO, still operate on the basis of country governments.
The GTF was founded in part to complement these official policy channels by providing a separate venue for the forest products sector to discuss trade-related matters. The GTF could potentially play an important role in improving information flow between governments and the private sector, and the FLA looks forward to seeing how it develops. The needs assessment can be an important tool for determining how the GTF will develop – and we look forward to sharing the preliminary results from the needs assessment at the FLA membership meeting, to be held in Washington, DC on July 14-15.