Statement on the legality of timber originating from Belarus
Updated 08 May 2022
A military conflict involving the Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken place with the support and collaboration of Belarus authorities.
On 2nd of March EU Council published DECISION (CFSP) 2022/356 and COUNCIL REGULATION (EU) 2022/355. According to these, it is prohibited to:
- import, directly or indirectly, wood products into the Union if they originate in Belarus; or have been exported from Belarus.
- purchase (directly or indirectly) wood products which are located in, or which originated in, Belarus.
- transport wood products if they originated in Belarus or are being exported from Belarus to any other country
- to provide, directly or indirectly, technical assistance, brokering services, financing or financial assistance, including financial derivatives, as well as insurance and re-insurance, related to the prohibitions on imports, purchase or transport as described above.
The scope of wood products to which the prohibitions apply, includes all wood products as defined in Combined Nomenclature Code chapter 44, set out in Annex I to Council Regulation (EEC) No 2658/87.
Note that the ban does not apply to supply contracts concluded before 2 March 2022, as long as they are executed before 4 June 2022. Also, there are differences between the scope of sanctioned Belarus products (CN code 44 only) and the EUTR which includes wooden furniture (94) and Pulp and paper (47 and 48).
Companies should, however, be aware that due diligence still needs to be applied for wood-products not covered by the sanctions. Risk assessments should include consideration of the prevalence of armed conflict.
Recent statements from PEFC and FSC have stated that wood products sourced from Belarus can be interpreted as conflict timber, or at least that this risk exists. PEFC categorizes timber from Belarus as “conflict timber” while the FSC Controlled Wood Risk Assessment for Belarus states that “The intrinsic link between forestry and the Belarusian government means that the risk of forestry activities contributing to threats to national and regional security is significant…” and that there is a risk that “…Operators in the area under assessment are involved in conflict timber supply/trade”. Companies considering this topic, may also wish to consult the European Commission guidance on the prevalence of armed conflict and sanctions in Due Diligence Systems. FSC and PEFC-certified (or controlled) material will cease to be available from Belarus.
Given the situation and challenges described above, the prevailing views expressed by several EUTR Competent Authorities is that it would be extremely arduous for operators sourcing timber/timber derived products from Belarus to carry out a full risk assessment of illegality or to mitigate the non-negligible risk.
For companies based in the European Union:
- It is not possible to legally import wood-products covered by CN code 44 from – or originating from - Belarus.
- According to the EU Timber Regulation, for products containing wood which are not covered by the ban, due diligence still needs to be applied. Companies must assess risks in relation to the prevalence of armed conflict, including the risk that funds derived from harvesting/trade fuel the outbreak - or continuation - of violent conflict or other gross violations of international humanitarian law. Companies must also evaluate the risk of sanctioned individuals or entities being owners or beneficiaries of forest industries in their supply chains. However, Operators are advised to heed the following guidance:
- The Ninth meeting of the Multi-Stakeholder Platform on Protecting and Restoring the World’s Forests, including the EUTR/FLEGT (29April22) concluded that, in the present circumstances, “it is impossible for operators – sourcing timber from [Belarus] – to carry out a full risk assessment and to effectively mitigate the non-negligible risk of acquiring illegally harvested timber”. The prevailing view of national (EUTR) competent authorities was expressed such that operators “refrain from placing on the EU market for the first time all timber harvested in [Belarus] and timber products from there”
- EC guidance on armed conflict and sanctions in Due Diligence Systems
- Summary record of the Eighth Meeting of the Multi-Stakeholder Platform on Protecting and Restoring the World’s Forests, including the EUTR/FLEGT (16March22)
- The purchase of wood-products and the related payment should not be making funds directly or indirectly available to one of the sanctioned entities or individuals. When a company is owned or controlled by a sanctioned individual or entity, no transactions should be carried out with the company as this would be considered as making funds indirectly available to this sanctioned individual or entity.
Preferred by Nature notes that obtaining information on the ownership (including beneficial ownership) and corporate structure of suppliers and their affiliates – as well as understanding whether payments have been made to sanctioned individuals – is extremely challenging.
For companies based outside of the European Union:
- Carefully monitor the situation, and exercise additional caution in their due diligence process, for wood-products sourced from Belarus.
- Although companies sourcing from Belarus may not be bound by the EU Timber Regulation or EU-imposed sanctions, other regulations (Lacey Act, Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act, etc…) may apply. Also, wood-products from Belarus may be covered by sanctions imposed by other countries. Robust due diligence requires that companies should still assess risks in relation to the prevalence of armed conflict, as well as the risk that sanctioned individuals or entities being also owners of forest industries.
Score: 41 / 100 in 2021
Rank: 82 out of 180 countries in 2021
FSC Certified Forest Area: 8,638,126 hectares (4 December 2019).
PEFC Certified Forest Area: 8,673,138 hectares (31 December 2019).