Australia’s ILPA: The First Illegal Timber Prohibition in the Southern Hemisphere

In addition to the U.S. Lacey Act and the EU Timber Regulation, Australia has passed a law banning illegal timber imports. The Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act (ILPA) came into effect on November 29, 2012. The Act makes it a criminal offense to “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly import illegally logged timber or timber products into Australia or to process domestically grown raw logs that have been illegally logged in Australia.” The Australian law represents a significant step forward in ongoing efforts to transform the global wood products trade.

In November 2014, a subsequent regulation came into effect containing requirements for importers to exercise due diligence, meaning to collect information about the origin of their timber products, in order to minimize the risk that their supply chains contain illegal material. In order to prove that due diligence has been undertaken, the importer must submit a declaration to the Customs Minister at the time of import.

By far, the most important exporter of timber and timber products to Australia is China. China processes large quantities of raw materials, from regions where the risk of illegal logging is high, into manufactured products for export. Australia also imports timber directly from high-risk countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. While the quantities sourced from these countries may seem small at a global scale, the risk of illegality is extremely high in the South East Asia region, and any level of illicit timber trade has devastating consequences for forests and local communities.

Regulatory Framework and Implementation of the ILPA

The Department of Agriculture Fisheries & Forestry (DAFF) is responsible for implementation the ILPA and has issued a number of guidance papers regarding the due diligence system. In order to help companies adjust to the new requirements, the DAFF has, since May 2015, been conducting compliance assessments across the industry. As of October 2015, DAFF sent letters to 117 businesses requesting information about their due diligence systems. According the Australian government, the recipients of these requests represent over 60% of regulated trade in Australia. The DAFF hired 20 agents, as of late 2015, who are in charge of investigating cases of illegal timber imports. While Australia will prosecute cases of illegality, the government indicated it would refrain from imposing criminal and civil penalties until May 2016 in order to give companies time to adjust to and implement the new requirements.

The ILPA recognizes the voluntary certification programs of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and PEFC Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) as part of the due diligence process. If the timber comes from a forest that has been certified by the FSC or the PEFC it can be automatically considered “low risk” and no further due diligence measures are required. In a guidance note, the Australian Government has clarified however, that only actual forest management certificates can be used for this purpose. Chain of custody certificates, which do not ensure the origin of the timber, are not accepted under the due diligence rules.

The Australian government has furthermore developed “country-specific guidelines” with important supplier countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia or Canada. The guidelines define the supplier country-specific conditions for legality as established by the respective governments. If these are fulfilled, the timber can be considered legal under the ILPA without further due diligence undertaken by the importer itself. One example of a country specific provision is the Indonesian Legality Verification System (SVLK).