October 29, 2008

New Logging Law Could Cause Industry Confusion

Logging companies have their eye on new U.S. legislation that intends to stop illegal logging in an effort to save the world's forests.

The new law requires companies to declare the country of origin as well as the genus and species of any wood or other plant material they import.

"The intent was good, but I think it lacked many practical features that something of this magnitude ought to have," said Jon Kent, a lobbyist for the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, during a discussion at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Under the new law, companies that trade in illegally sourced wood or file false import declarations would have their goods confiscated and could face criminal penalties as well.

It forces companies for the first time "to ask the most basic question of where is my wood from," said Alexander von Bismarck of the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency.

Retailers have had some of their concerns over the scope of the law addressed, but many still believe new legislation is needed to better define what products are and are not covered, said Erik Autor, vice president for international trade at the National Retail Federation.

"The further you get away from the plant or the tree," the harder it is for companies to supply the required information, Autor said. "That's particularly the case for highly refined or processed products."

Illegal logging comes at a high cost "“ about $15 billion each year "“ for developing countries, according to the World Bank. Additionally, illegal logging threatens the habitat of many endangered species, like the orangutans of Southeast Asia and other rare animals in Latin America and Eurasia.

As many as 30,000 custom entries each day could require a declaration "and that's a heck of a lot of entries," said Bill Thomas, associate executive director of plant health programs at the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The new law will be phased in over two years beginning April 1 as long as new electronic filing parameters are in place.

The initial focus will be on products "closest to the tree and easiest to come up with the genus and species," Thomas said.