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Chief of UN-WTO trade body warns EU deforestation rules risk ‘catastrophic’ impact on global trade

In an interview with the Financial Times, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, executive director of the ITC, a joint agency of the UN and World Trade Organization, has lashed out against new EU deforestation rules.

She told the newspaper that the ban on goods linked to deforestation from entering the EU in effect favour major corporations able to trace where their produce had been grown and thereby risk to “cutting off” smaller suppliers from trade flows.

She said:

“What the biggest producers may do is, not being able to do the traceability for these small farmers, simply cut them off”

Smaller corporations not being able to comply with the requirements risks “a vicious cycle”, Coke-Hamilton warned:

“Once you have loss of market share, you have loss of income, then you will have lots of increased poverty, then increased deforestation because at the root of deforestation is poverty.”


“We [risk] falling into the trap of reinforcing something that we’re trying to change”

The EU rules will benchmark countries according to whether they have a low, “standard” or high risk of deforestation or degraded forests, with more customs checks applied to goods from countries labeled as high-risk.

The new EU rules are scheduled to enter into force at the end of next year.

In contrast to the European Union, the United Kingdom takes a different approach, whereby the the standards of its trading partners are simply recognised. In the case of palm oil, this means that the UK recognises the national certification programmes like the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Board. Recently, Global Forest Watch concluded that both Malaysia and Indonesia had managed to significantly reduce deforestation, by 64 and 57 per cent respectively. In the case of Malaysia, a plantation area cap was also established in 2019, and there were new forestry laws enacted in 2022 to stiffen penalties for illegal logging.

While EU trade talks with Indonesia and Malaysia have been frozen since June, following tensions over the issue, the UK has been welcomed to join the the new trans-Pacific trade agreement CPTPP, also following its pledge to cut tariffs for palm oil imports to zero.


Picture: Pamela Coke Hamilton (Copyright: ITC)