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Timber users take a sustainable approach to wood

Deforestation - seen here in Congo - is a big problem (WWF)

Swiss environmental groups and the country’s largest importer of tropical timber have signed a landmark agreement aimed at combating illegal logging.

In future, Swiss door producers will only use specially labelled wood from forests which are sustainably managed.

The accord was signed in Bern on Monday between the Swiss Door Manufacturers Association, and Greenpeace Switzerland and WWF Switzerland.

The Swiss Door Manufacturers Association is the largest importer of tropical timber in Switzerland accounting for 30 per cent of total imports. Around 60 per cent of the 400,000 doors made each year in Switzerland contain tropical timber.

Under the terms of the accord, the industry has voluntarily agreed to stop buying wood of doubtful origin. It has also approved measures to gradually start buying timber which is labelled as having come from sustainably managed forests.

The president of the Swiss Door Manufacturers Association, Roger Herzig, said the accord was proof that the industry was environmentally conscious.

“We do care about the fate of tropical forests,” said Herzig. “But we can only find a solution together.”

Greenpeace Switzerland and the WWF Switzerland also welcomed the move, which they said had needed much careful negotiation.

Breaking boundaries

Hans-Peter Fricker, head of WWF Switzerland, said the accord had, in many ways, “broken through boundaries” and that such agreements were vital, if developing countries were to use their resources in a sustainable way.

In some countries, such as Indonesia, the trade in tropical timber accounts for 15 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Greenpeace and the WWF said that they hoped makers of parquet floors – also large consumers of tropical wood - would follow suit in signing such an accord.

In a statement on Monday, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), which helped to broker the agreement, said the accord was a first for Switzerland.

It said agreements based on voluntary, private-public cooperation were a more effective way of stopping unsustainable logging than an outright ban.

“Sustainable trade in tropical timber and the preservation of tropical forests would generate additional income in the long term and contribute to reducing poverty,” said Seco.

Seco added that the timber trade was a vital industry for many countries and that 90 per cent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty depended on forests to cover their basic needs.

The department said the accord could be used as a model for similar agreements in the future.

Policy

The signing of the accord came one day before Switzerland is due to host the annual conference of the International Tropical Trade Organization (ITTO).

Among the topics to be discussed are international cooperation and the fight against deforestation.

Seco said the accord and the conference were evidence of its long-term commitment to protecting tropical timber.

It added that although Switzerland accounts for only a relatively small share of the global market in such wood, the country was a good test market for products and trade policies which support environmentally friendly and socially aware forest management.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

190 million m3 of tropical timber is produced each year worldwide.
In Indonesia, it accounts for 15% of its GDP.
In Switzerland, 30% of imported tropical timber is used for doors.
60% of the 400,000 doors produced annually are made from tropical timber.

end of infobox


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