Timber strives for certification

  • 1999-10-07
  • By Blake Lambert
RIGA - Latvia's leading export industry could be certified by an
international non-governmental organization as early as next year,
said an auditor who reviewed the industry's draft management

Mike Garforth, an associate with SGS Forestry, a division of the
international inspection and verification company, spent Sept. 23 to
Sept. 30 evaluating the Latvian forest certification standard and its
guidelines for forest management.

This is the first step toward gaining certification for Latvia's
forests, the lifeblood of the timber, or wood and wood products,
industry, which comprised almost 40 percent of exports in the first
half of 1999.

The Forestry Stewardship Council, an organization started in 1993
that has set up international principles and criteria for forestry
management, encourages countries that export timber to certify their
forests to ensure they are maintaining environmentally sustainable
practices, i.e. ensuring trees are replanted after being cut down.

As of Sept. 1, the FSC has certified 17 million hectares of global forests.

Latvia is being told to certify its forests in order to maintain its
share of the marketplace in Western European countries whose
consumers are increasingly concerned about environmentally safe

Garforth said it took three years in the U.K. to get the forests
certified, starting from the initial draft of its management

By comparison, Latvia's working group, comprised of stakeholders from
exporting companies, logging companies, environmental organizations,
trade unions and the State Forest Service, started in 1997 and
completed the draft standard in April 1999.

"They're two years into the process, and there's no reason, with the
goodwill of everyone involved and the determination to succeed, the
draft could not be completed and ready for submission to the FSC
board next year," said Garforth. "But it depends on everyone being
committed to getting a resolution."

However, both Garforth and his colleague, Sophie Higman, an SGS
forest auditor, cautioned there are numerous points that need to be
clarified before certification can proceed.

They released their findings to forest industry insiders at a seminar
on Sept. 30 after conducting a test in Selijas forest near Jekabpils.

Higman said the Latvian FSC standard is, on the whole, very good and
very well-written and can be tested in the field.

But Higman and Garforth cited several problem areas contained in
Latvia's forest certification standard. They are:

o Its wording is not clear in five cases, including on the point of
who manages the forests.

o There are cases where the requirement of the standard contradicts
current forest legislation.

o There are conflicts between the standard and current forestry practice.

o The standard does not cover several areas of the FSC's principles
and criteria.

"Once the standard is reviewed and revised, it needs to be agreed
upon by its stakeholder groups and then submitted to the FSC board
for endorsement," Garforth said. "How long that takes is up to
Latvia's stakeholders, as well as the FSC board."

However, it appeared at the seminar that certification is still many
steps away for Latvia's forests.

First of all, the FSC board has yet to recognize the country's
certification working group.

Secondly, the working group needs to maintain a strong consensus to
fast-track the process, according to Garforth, but criticism about
certification exists.

"It's pressure from international bodies to accept certification,"
said Jevegnijs Cernihovics, an environmental researcher from
Daugavpils University.

"I think so because the international pressure on certification is a
bottom up process, and the World Wildlife Fund invited the
international consultancy, SGS, who are a very powerful company in
the world, and this occurred just after the loss of Latvian timber to
exports, as a result of the absence of FSC certification on timber."

A representative from WWF did not dispute Cernihovics' statement,
saying some companies have had difficulties in European markets and
that certification is needed to regain access to those markets.

At various points during the seminar, Cernihovics fought with the SGS
auditors, even commandeering a blackboard in the room to sketch his
point of view.

Finally, Latvia's forestry industry is set to undergo massive
changes, and the SGS auditors said they did not know how the changes
will affect the possibilities of certification.

Specifically, a new joint stock company will be introduced, which
will gain responsibility for forest management, a responsibility that
currently belongs to the State Forest Service, according to SGS

The SFS, in turn, will supervise forestry regulation, instead of
sharing management duties with the private company which is
harvesting or logging, said the auditors.