More furniture exporters may close due to new EU policy

FURNITURE exporters are urging the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to immediately act on critical issues that can close or slow down their operations.

In a number of letters and meetings, Myrna C. Bituin, trustee for the furniture sector of the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (Philexport), expressed to Ricardo Calderon, chief of the Forest Management Bureau (FMB) of DENR, the growing industry concern on three major issues: the obsolete log import policy under DAO 99-46; the equally hard system of documenting and transporting locally harvested plantation trees; and the EU requirement for certification on sustainable sourcing that takes effect on March this year.

A recent letter from Calderon explained that his office is now revising DAO 99-46. The amendments are supposed to support and strengthen the country's position on the legality issues under the Lacey Act of the United States, the "due diligence" policy of the EU member states and the illegal logging Act of Australia.

The said laws prohibit the entry of wood-based products such as lumber, wood-based furniture and handicrafts and other wood-based manufactured articles to these countries if the wood used in the production or manufacturing cannot be traced back from its legal sources.

The same traceability requirements were imposed by the DENR on plantation wood like Philippine mahogany, gemilina and other trees cultivated in private plantations across the country that were not included in the logging ban.

This was done through the issuance by community environment offices of DENR in the cutting and transport permits of plantation trees.

Furniture makers, however, complained that the legally documented timber were subjects of harassment by police and environment officials when moved to their factories.

Responding to the request of industry players, Calderon forwarded to Philexport a list of regional directors of DENR and their contact numbers who have been ordered to act on complaints against harassment of this type.

He clarified, however, that the DENR could not issue certifications on the traceability of locally-cut plantation timber because the importing countries require third party certifying bodies.

In a recent dialogue with representatives from EU, the furniture exporters were told to consult their buying partners on what precise documents are required.

Under EU's traceability rules, the importers will have the responsibility to prove that the products they buy are from legal and sustainable sources.

Locally, proof of legal sources could also be ascertained by DENR permits to cut and to transport plantation species, Calderon said.
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