Imagine you were a vendor selling products on the market. One day, some of your known, old buyers would start demanding assurances that your products fulfil certain requirements; or else, they can no longer buy from you. How would you react? Would you seek to fulfil the new, additional requirements or simply sell your products to other buyers, who demand less? Moreover, how might other concerned actors perceive this situation, such as the government, who regulates the marketplace?
Together with Dr. Shidiki Abubakar Ali and Herman Zanguim from the University of Dschang, I was part of a research team set out to explore these and related questions in the context of the Cameroon-EU timber trade as part of the CLEVER project. In 2023, the EU adopted new market requirements in the Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR) for timber and some other commodities and derived products. For timber, the new requirements expand on rules that have been so far in place as part of the EU Timber Regulation. According to the new rules, timber products can be imported to (or exported from) the EU market only if they are legally produced and free of deforestation and forest degradation. With our team, we discussed emerging challenges and how to address them in Cameroon – a country producing and exporting tropical timber – with actors from State institutions, timber businesses, certification bodies, NGOs and the civil society, international organizations, and research and training institutions.
We found out that awareness of the EUDR is high but knowledge of its details on average is still low among the actors. The EUDR can be seen as complex as it contains a lot of details and technicalities, such as definitions of concepts like deforestation or forest degradation. An issue raised by many was that the EU has poorly communicated about the EUDR and what it might imply for a country like Cameroon. This may, in turn, have led to current lower levels of understanding of the EUDR and even misunderstandings of it, such as that the EU would be encroaching on other countries’ sovereignty with it.
Different stakeholders in Cameroon also found that the EU had insufficiently involved actors in countries outside of the EU in the development of the EUDR, calling for a more participatory approach. Another point made by many was that the EUDR is perceived as overly restrictive and punitive for countries such as Cameroon that still have large areas of forests standing. Actors said that to achieve meaningful impacts, regulations like the EUDR should be more supportive and incentivizing for better governance in the countries where commodities are produced. According to them, a restrictive and punitive approach that they see with the EUDR is doomed to fail in its implementation due to lack of enabling conditions and support in countries of commodity production.
Timber businesses, on the other hand, did not appear too fussed about the EUDR. They believe themselves to be well prepared for its application, also because of existing EU regulations like the EU Timber Regulation. And what if their products were no longer accepted “as is” in the EU market? Their response was: Demand is high in Asian markets and buyers from African markets are also increasingly knocking on their door. Thus, there might be no shortage of alternative buyers for their timber products.
It remains to be seen what the real impacts of the EUDR on countries like Cameroon, their timber industry, and their forests will be, after its application begins in 2024-2025. What will happen to the Cameroon-EU timber trade? How will Asian businesses, who import Cameroonian timber and re-export it to the EU, react? Will implementation and enforcement of the EUDR in the EU be possible and effective? Only time will tell, and we’ll hopefully follow the process from the researchers’ point of view.
Written by Mathias Cramm from the European Forest Institute.