The Ministry of Trade has scrapped the legality requirement for timber export sector. Widespread illegal logging will start again.
THE Covid-19 pandemic is proving an effective excuse to take any shortcut deemed necessary to avoid obstacles. This is what happened when the ministry of trade issued Regulation No. 15/2020, which scraps the requirement for producers and exporters in the downstream timber and forestry industry to adhere to the verification scheme in the Timber Legality Assurance System (SVLK). Previously, this obligation, which came into force in 2009, covered the entire timber and forestry industry from upstream to downstream.
This new regulation originated in a proposal from the Indonesian Furniture and Craft Association (HIMKI), which had been lobbying the government for a year, and even sent a letter to President Joko Widodo. The association claimed that the SVLK weakened the competitiveness of the Indonesian furniture and craft industry. It proposed the government changed the status of the SVLK from mandatory to voluntary.
The HIMK’s reasoning has no validity. The Indonesian Furniture Entrepreneurs Association (Asmindo), which is in the same industry as the HIMKI, is of the opinion that the SVLK improves the competitiveness of Indonesian processed timber products on the global market. Data from the Central Statistics Agency shows that furniture exports continue to rise, reaching US$1.95 million in 2019, an increase of 14.6 percent over the previous year. In the same period, the value of handicraft exports rose 3 percent to US$892 million.
Even though the reasoning of the HIMKI has been proved to be invalid, the trade ministry still followed up on the proposal at the end of February. Because it was issued in the middle of the Corona pandemic, the new regulation was included in the government’s non-fiscal policy packet in the form of a simplification and reduction of the number of restrictions and limitations on export activities. The HIMKI lobbying and network is very effective. The SVLK scheme, drawn up to restore Indonesia’s timber and forestry business, turns out to be susceptible to being altered.
It is right to worry that illegal logging will start again. The SVLK scheme guarantees the principle of sustainable management. It covers the whole process from the work plan, the procedure for felling trees and transport to the processing and the way it is sold. From 1985 to 1997, Indonesia lost 1.5 million hectares of forest to illegal logging. This scheme was drawn up to stop this large-scale deforestation and so that Indonesian timber products could easily be exported.
The ministry of trade should have listened to all sides before issuing this controversial regulation. Asmindo has an opinion that is completely at odds with that of the HIMKI. The environment and forestry ministry refused to sign off on the draft regulation. Environmental activists also oppose the change to the SVLK regulation. Tempo, in an investigation, discovered that illegal logging was still going on despite the SVLK, so it is certain to increase if the regulation is reduced in scope so it only applies to the upstream timber and forestry industry.
Given the objections that far outweigh the reasoning of the HIMKI, the president must revoke this new ministry of trade regulation. Ignoring the fact that Rakabu Furniture, the furniture company established by President Jokowi, is a member of the HIMKI, the government must consider the much larger number of disadvantages if this regulation comes into force in May.