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Updated: March 19, 2024

King takes aim at 'impossible' new European Union rules on forest goods

A large green harvester tractor picks up logs in the woods File photo / Courtesy Professional Logging Contractors of Maine A new EU regulation set to take effect next year requires that for all timber and timber-derived products entering the European Union, the originating landowners be identified and their contact information be made available.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is leading a push to clarify new EU rules lawmakers say will hurt U.S. producers of paper, packaging and other forest products.

The European Union Deforestation-Free Regulation, set to take effect at the start of 2025, imposes due diligence requirements on exporters of pulp and paper products to the 27-nation European bloc.

The regulation, approved by EU governments last May, aims to ensure that the EU’s consumption and trade of those goods don't contribute to deforestation and further degrade forest ecosystems. The regulation is part of the "European Green Deal" package of policy initiatives aimed at achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

King and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are worried that the rule may hurt the $350 billion U.S. paper and pulp industry, which employs more than 920,000 Americans including thousands in Maine.

In Maine, the timber industry generates $8.5 billion annually. King's office indicated that Maine has 14,000 people directly employed in the forest products industry. 

“While we applaud the EU’s commitment towards reducing deforestation, the EUDR, as currently written, presents significant compliance issues due to its stringency and ambiguity,” King and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., argue in a March 8 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

One concern they cite is a requirement on exporters to trace commodities they are selling back to the plot of land where they were produced. For timber-related products, the law also requires that the originating landowners are identified and their contact information made available.

The elected officials worry about the disclosure of confidential information and say it could disrupt long-standing partnerships between landowners and producers.

“Additionally, it is concerning that the regulation does not identify who would have access to this proprietary data or how the data would be used for enforcement,” says the letter, whose 25 other signatories include U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

In September, all four members of Maine's congressional delegation sent a letter to Tai expressing concern about the same EU regulation.

Traceability requirement

The letter notes that in the United States, 42% of the wood fiber used by pulp and paper mills comes from wood chips, forest residuals and sawmill manufacturing residues, none of which can be traced back to an individual forest plot.

“The EUDR traceability requirement will be nearly impossible for a significant segment of the U.S. paper and pulp industry to comply with,” the senators argue.

As the enforcement date nears, they hope U.S. trade officials can clear up details about the EU's requirements for traceability, data reporting and country benchmarking.

"We ask that [the U.S. Trade Representative] encourage the EU to recognize that the United States has robust regulatory standards to protect the long-term health of U.S. forests," they write.

"This will help American paper and pulp producers achieve compliance under these new standards and ensure that the United States and the European Union can maintain [their] mutually beneficial trade relationship in paper and pulp products."

Editor's note: Article updated with information about a September letter from Maine's congressional delegation.

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