HCM CITY — Vietnamese wooden products makers have to conform to new US and EU laws on legal exploitation of timber to be able to export their products to those markets, an expert told a conference in HCM City yesterday.
Heiko Woerner, technical advisor at the Germany-based GFA Consulting Group, said under the Lacey Act, which becomes effective in April this year, all wood products exported to the US must have certification showing they are legal.
Exporters, thus, have to clearly know about their sourcing and cannot simply rely on documents provided by sellers, he warned.
Violation of this federal act can result in civil penalties of up to US$10,000, criminal sanctions of up to $500,000 in fines for corporations and $250,000 for individuals, and/or up to five years' imprisonment, and the products could be seized or destroyed, he said.
He said Vietnamese companies should use robust risk management systems to assess the risk of illegality and exercise extra care when buying forest products from regions with known or suspected high rates of illegal logging.
"The Lacey Act is a fact-based rather than a document-based statute. If imported products turn out to be of illegal origin, this fact will override any statement or document to the contrary.
"Therefore, evaluating your suppliers and developing trust in them and the forest products they provide is as important as obtaining papers." Vietnamese firms should carefully consider the act's provisions to avoid sanctions and safeguard their prestige, he said.
More than 190 Vietnamese wood processing enterprises use chain of custody, a system that allows tracing the furniture to the source of wood through the production steps.
In the EU, the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) will take effect next year to encourage members to implement policies that favour timber from sustainably managed forests and legal sources and to make voluntary partnership agreements with producing countries.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has set up a working group to study and recommend actions once FLEGT takes effect.
In addition, under the EU Due Diligence Regulation, which will be mandatory from January 2012, everyone selling timber to the EU will have to use a "checking" system to ensure that wood is not illegal.
Importers will seek information and proof of origin of timber from suppliers and will not buy if the information is not provided.
The US was Viet Nam's largest market for wooden products last year, buying goods worth $11.2 billion, followed by the EU with $9.3 billion. — VNS