EU import procedures for FLEGT-licensed products

What is the procedure in the EU for handling FLEGT-licensed products?

Each FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between the EU and a timber producing country includes an annex that describes EU procedures for the release for free circulation of FLEGT-licensed timber products. The annex explains EU border control measures and describes the procedures that ‘Competent Authorities’ in EU Member States will follow when a shipment of FLEGT-licensed timber or timber products arrives from a VPA partner country.

The procedures are based on the requirements of the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Regulation of 2005 and its Implementing Regulation of 2008. Under these regulations, once a VPA country starts FLEGT licensing, Competent Authorities in EU Member States must verify that consignments of timber from the VPA partner country are covered by valid FLEGT licences, if the products fall within the VPA’s product scope. If such products are not covered by a valid FLEGT licence, the competent authorities will not permit their import to the EU.

The VPA annex on EU procedures for imports of FLEGT-licensed timber products describes the two kinds of checks that Competent Authorities do:

  • Documentary checks to ensure FLEGT licences are in the correct format, and have the correct date and are valid and authentic.
  • Physical checks, according to the normal procedures of customs authorities in EU Member States, to ensure shipments conform with the accompanying licences

In case of doubts about whether a shipment conforms with its corresponding FLEGT licence, the Competent Authority concerned can seek further clarification from the VPA partner country. The release of a shipment could be suspended and the shipment detained if there are doubts regarding the validity of the FLEGT licence.

You can download each ratified VPA and read the annex on EU procedures here: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/forests/flegt.htm

Are there consequences for an EU operator if they place FLEGT-licensed products on the market but later learn, through NGO reports for example, that the products originated from illegal sources?

If the operator has placed the products on the market without knowledge of their illegality or reason to suspect illegality, it can be recognised that the operator acted in good faith. However, if competent authorities have evidence that the operator was aware of the illegality, there may be penalties for the operator.

The purpose of a FLEGT licence is to provide an assurance that products have been verified as legal. If timber products receive a FLEGT licence but are later shown to be illegal, the FLEGT licensing authority should revoke the licence. If anyone suspects or knows that illegal products have been given FLEGT licences they should contact the Competent Authorities in the recipient EU Member State and the FLEGT licensing authorities in the exporting country.

What is the process if customs prevent an EU operator from placing timber on the market because of a problem with a FLEGT licence? If there are costs, who pays?

Normal customs procedures will apply. If the FLEGT licence is not consistent with the shipment, any costs will be borne by the importer, except where the EU Member State concerned determines otherwise (art. 5 para. 7 of Reg 2173/2005). Importers should check the relevant Member State’s legislation. The onus is on importers to ensure all their documents are in order and ready for checks by customs. In the case of routine checks by customs in the absences of problems with a FLEGT licence, the related costs will be borne by customs.

Do operators need to send each FLEGT licence to their Competent Authority? When and how should they do this?

Yes, operators need to submit the hard copy of the FLEGT licence marked 'original' to the Competent Authority. This can take place as soon as the FLEGT licensing authority has issued the licence and the details are confirmed in the export declaration in the country of dispatch. Operators in EU Member States therefore do not need to wait until the shipment has reached the EU before sending copies of FLEGT licences to Competent Authorities. Please also check the relevant Member State’s legislation (or the Competent Authority) for the exact procedure to be followed.

An IT system (FLEGIT) will enable EU operators to submit a FLEGT licence to the Competent Authority for verification by entering all the licence’s elements electronically. The advantage of FLEGIT is that it allows national Competent Authorities to check and verify FLEGT licences quickly and also enables Customs authorities to check the licence validity and release the shipment for free circulation quickly. FLEGIT has been developed as a component of the TRACES (TRAde Control and Expert System). FLEGIT is available here: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/tracesnt.

FLEGIT will be open for user registration from 31 October 2016. From that date, users will find registration instructions at: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/tracesnt/ by clicking on the menu item 'FLEGT User Guide'. Please note that the FLEGIT support team will not be able to register users or reply to questions on 1-2 November 2016, due to public holidays in Brussels. Users will be able to submit licences from 15 November 2016.  

Operators in EU Member States that have set up a national site for submitting FLEGT licences electronically should only use the national site.  All operators who submit FLEGT licences electronically must also submit the hard copy of the FLEGT licence marked ‘original’ to their Competent Authority.

What is the status of timber products that are already on their way to the EU when FLEGT licensing starts and which therefore lack FLEGT licences?

Timber products exported to the EU from Indonesia on or after 15 November 2016 must have a FLEGT licence. If such products lack FLEGT licences, authorities in EU member states will not allow the products to enter the market. Timber products exported from Indonesia before 15 November 2016, and so lacking FLEGT licences, are permitted to enter the EU after that date. However, for such products, the due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation still apply.