Volume 46, Issue 9 - November/December 2007

In the News

Import Issues
Associations Speak Out about Illegal Logging Bill
A number of U.S. wood and timber associations had been anxiously awaiting the congressional hearing on Congressman Blumenauer’s (D-OR) Legal Timber Protection Act, HR 1497, that took place in the House Natural Resource subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans on Tuesday, October 16. The hearing to review the legislation was originally scheduled for September 11, but was cancelled due to a sudden change in the House schedule. 

The legislation would expand the Lacey Act to prohibit the import, sale or trade of illegally harvested wood and wood products.

What’s the Problem?
“Illegal logging is a problem that crosses national boundaries to affect communities, companies and ecosystems alike,” said Rep. Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “This legislation would level the playing field for U.S. industry, not create new obstacles. We see an extraordinary opportunity for common ground here and we believe this legislation is a solution that benefits everyone.”

But various associations look at this illegal-logging legislation differently.

Proposed illegal logging legislation places undue responsibility on small, family businesses to enforce foreign laws, makes U.S. Customs regulations more complex and provides no protection for innocent owners, according to testimony by the International Wood Products Association (IWPA) in the Congressional hearings.

“This legislation is well-intended but attempts to get at illegal logging by deputizing small, family businesses to enforce foreign laws,” said IWPA government affairs committee chairman Craig Forester. 

“If enacted, U.S. importers, manufacturers and distributors can be held responsible for illegal acts overseas at any step of the supply chain—violations that they would have no reasonable expectation to know about, much less the underlying laws that exist in all foreign countries.”

Forester stressed that HR 1497 provides no protection for “innocent owners” in the supply chain who handle imported wood and reinforces the key principle of “innocent before proven guilty.” Such a provision would legally protect good actors, but not prohibit the government from taking goods that violate foreign laws.

“We implore the members of the committee to amend the anti-small business bill to protect innocent owners and save U.S. jobs.”

Level the Playing Field
But other associations feel this bill would make the market more level when it comes to business.

The Hardwood Federation (HF) presented testimony in support of this legislation (with amended changes to support the Senate version S. 1930). Victor Barringer, president and chief executive officer of Coastal Lumber Co., testified at the hearing on behalf of the HF.

“Illegal logging contributes to deforestation, undermines the viability of legally harvested and traded forest products and creates unsustainable forest conditions. The Combat Illegal Logging Act is an important step in addressing these global issues. The legislation is a product of industry, environmental and conservation groups coming together to halt the damaging effects of illegal logging to domestic industries and foreign environments,” the HF said in a press release about the Congressional hearings.

But the issue of illegal logging and fair trade in the wood industry isn’t just a Congressional fight. Both the IWPA and members of the HF recently met with the International Trade Commission (ITC). Representatives of the IWPA met with the ITC to discuss how the association feels its industry supports the U.S. job market and sustainable practices worldwide. According to IWPA, the $23-billion imported wood products industry supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

Under Investigation
A panel commented on the value of imports for domestic manufacturers and answered questions from the six ITC commissioners and their staff members at a public hearing. The session was a part of the Section 332 investigation on the U.S. flooring and hardwood plywood industries.

IWPA says all of the imports handled by its members arrive in the United States, accompanied by the necessary permits, documents and paperwork that allow them to be traded legally and sustainably under international and national laws and regulations.

Leading the Effort
NOFMA—The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association, a member of the Hardwood Federation, also met recently with the ITC as part of the Section 332 investigation.

Timm Locke, executive vice president of NOFMA, explained to Shelter some of the history behind the Section 332 investigation (also see Shelter April 2007, page 22).“In large part, NOFMA—The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association was the impetus behind the Hardwood Federation addressing the import issues in the way we have. Three years ago, NOFMA led the effort to entice the Customs Bureau to more actively address misclassification issues and enforce existing trade laws regarding hardwood flooring,” says Locke. “That evolved into an effort to prompt the Senate Finance Committee to request a Section 332 investigation, an effort that was two years in the making before we were successful in getting the investigation started.”

“Turns out, illegal logging, which causes artificially deflated raw materials prices, is just one [factor addressed]” Locke says. “Other factors that must also be addressed include lax environmental standards in many of the countries we’re competing with; manipulation of currency exchange rates in China and perhaps elsewhere; unsafe working conditions that would cost money to remediate; Harmonized Tariff Schedule misclassification for the purpose of tariff avoidance; governmental subsidies designed to allow foreign producers to “buy” market share with inexpensive products; and theft of intellectual property rights that goes unpunished; the list goes on …”

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