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Brussels Approves Groundbreaking Import Ban on Goods Linked to Deforestation

FILE - Cattle graze on land burned and deforested by cattle farmers near Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Aug. 23, 2020.
FILE - Cattle graze on land burned and deforested by cattle farmers near Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Aug. 23, 2020.

Companies exporting products like chocolate, timber and palm oil will soon face tough new European Union regulations to ensure these goods aren’t linked to deforestation. The measures are a first for Europe and the world — and may set a global precedent.

Environmentalists are hailing the groundbreaking legislation endorsed by the European Union early Tuesday. It will, however, need to be formally passed by the EU’s parliament and member states, a move likely to occur early next year.

European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz called the measure a crucial step forward in protecting the environment and Europe’s green commitments.

The draft law targets imports of goods like coffee, cocoa, meat, palm oil and soy, which are linked to deforestation. Companies will need to show where and when these items were produced, and verify they weren’t grown on land deforested after 2020.

“I think it can’t be understated how groundbreaking this law is,” Jahnz said. “It’s really the first of its kind in the world.”

“There’ll be a direct impact from it,” said John Hyland, a Brussels-based spokesman for the European Unit of Greenpeace. “It will stop some chainsaws and bulldozers clearing forests and it will stop companies profiting from deforestation in Europe."

But Hyland also said the legislation has drawbacks. Environmentalists consider its definition of forest degradation to be weak, allowing logging industries, for example, to continue cutting down trees in many places. Green groups say they hope the restrictions will be widened to include other crucial ecosystems like wetlands and savannas.

Greenpeace said it believes the measure may prompt other countries and companies to adopt similar due-diligence standards.

"All these companies that want to sell in Europe — which is a huge market — they’ll be forced to collect this information,” said Hyland. “And once they’re collecting this information, other countries — it’s much easier for them to ask for this information too. And companies will want to have their competitors brought up to the same standard they are as well.”

Deforestation is a massive and alarming problem worldwide — especially in the Amazon and Congo basin where the forests are crucial for fighting climate change.

The United Nations estimates the world has lost 420 million hectares of forest over the past three decades.