Minimising the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market

EESC opinion: Minimising the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market

Key points

  • The European Economic and Social Committee welcomes the Commission's proposal for a regulation, which is considered timely and highly relevant.
  • The Committee finds that the scope of the regulation should be broadened. (i) The regulation should not only cover deforestation and forest degradation. Products and commodities, the production of which has led to the destruction of other high‑value conservation ecosystems such as savannahs, wetlands, peatlands, mangroves or riparian buffers, should also be covered by a prohibition that prevents them from being placed on the European market. (ii) Important forest risk commodities such as maize, sugar and rubber should be included in the scope of the regulation as of its entry into force. The regulation should cover products from animals fed with forest risk commodities to avoid leakage and unfair competition. (iii) The regulation must address other very important social and environmental issues associated with the production of the products covered, in addition to deforestation and forest degradation. This is all the more important for human rights issues, fair treatment of workers and workers' rights issues. Demanding legality only in the producing country, as stipulated in the proposal, is not sufficient for the exact same reasons that it is not sufficient for avoiding deforestation.
  • High priority must be given to making sure that all Member States carry out an efficient and effective control, that the necessary funds are dedicated to the initiative, and that systems are in place in all Member States before the entry into force of the regulation.
  • Political cooperation and alignment on demand-side initiatives with other major importing countries should be a top priority.
  • The EESC considers that the cost of the proposed regulation should not be transferred to small-scale farmers who are barely earning a living income. The Commission should recognise the potential role of smallholders including women as agents of change, and should ensure the effective, free, meaningful, and informed participation of smallholders. The role of certification and the impact of the proposed regulation on farmers, including smallholders and local communities, must be assessed ex-ante and the conclusions from these assessments must be integrated in the regulation before its entry into force. Producers in poor countries should be given enough time to adapt.
  • Penalties should be dissuasive. At the same time, penalties and zero-tolerance should not lead to risk avoidance. If buyers for the European market avoid areas with non-negligible deforestation risk altogether, then farmers and smallholders in remote areas risk being left behind.
  • Europe has a structural protein deficiency, which is currently covered by imported protein-rich feed, some of this coming from deforestation risk regions. Europe must increase its degree of self-sufficiency in plant protein. The European Union should also develop a dedicated strategy – linked to Horizon Europe and the EU innovation fund – for developing scaling up production of and making marketable new protein sources. 
  • SME exemptions and simplified due diligence under the country benchmarking system should not create loopholes that could render the regulation ineffective. At the same time, the regulation should not create unnecessary administrative burdens and costs.
  • The EESC considers that social partners and civil society should play a tangible role in monitoring the effectiveness of reducing deforestation. The European Economic and Social Committee and the European Committee of the Regions –should become members of the EU Commission multi-stakeholder platform. The platform should be given a central role in overseeing the implementation of the legislation.
  • The regulation must be consistent with the agreements that the EU has with its trading partners.