In March, a significant new change came to the timber industry as the EU Timber Regulation cames into force. Iain McIlwee, chief executive of the British Woodworking Federation, reports on the EU Timber Regulation ...

The new law bans illegal timber in the EU. It requires anyone handling wood or wood products to assess the risk that those products might have come from an illegal source and to take action to stop such products going onto the market. It demands a process of due diligence and an obligation to keep certain detailed records of your supplies, suppliers and customers.

This new law is relevant to all who buy or sell timber or timber products in the UK and all European countries. For the furniture production market, the new regulation covers furniture, components and raw materials of diverse type and origin. You may see it referred to in a number of ways, for example as EU 995/2010, The EU Timber Regulation, the EUTR or the Timber and Timber Products (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2013, which is the enforcing regulation in the UK.

Of course, this is just the latest change affecting an industry that is frequently subject to new initiatives on sustainability, landfill and legality of supply. The new regulations should, in the longterm, represent a healthy step for the wood products industry which prides itself on its ethical and ecological credentials. But in the meantime, the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) certainly recognises the practical challenges for many businesses which are trying to adapt and accept these changes as smoothly and successfully as possible.

The big issue is about avoiding potential penalties, especially during the transition period as everyone is making sense of the changes and getting to understand the regulation. Penalties may be levied on the basis of inadequate measures or inattention to legal adjustments, as well as in the event of actual deliberate breaches of the law.

The penalties are not to be sniffed at either. They range from three months in jail or £5000 fines for inadequate record keeping and disclosure of sensitive information, to unlimited fines or years of imprisonment for seriously deficient due diligence systems. Inspectors have the power to seize suspect timber and timber products. The penalties pose a definite legal and financial threat, but they are entirely avoidable if the correct procedures are employed.

How much the regulation will impact on your day-to-day work will depend on what role you play in a transaction. For some transactions, complying with the regulation may simply be a case of keeping records of sale and purchase – not that difficult for furniture manufacturers selling direct to the consumer. For others, more complex systems will need to be put in place to minimise the risk of illegal timber being sold.

But ultimately, to safeguard your reputation and stay in line with the new rules, you need to ensure your timber supplies are legitimate, both in future and for products already on the market. You will be required to keep records of all sales and purchases for five years.

Here at the BWF, we have been involved at various stages of the regulation’s introduction, consulting with Defra and the enforcement bodies in order to feed back views from the industry. The authorities have pledged to work closely with us and other industry groups.

We will be working hard to keep our members and others in the industry informed, and to minimise confusion with helpful materials including our Easy Guide to EU Timber Regulation and through our technical helplines. The BWF is also launching a template due diligence guidance document which BWF members bringing in timber products from outside the EU will be able to adapt to help comply with the legislation.