CTI Blog

CTI Blog - If the PM is serious about solving the housing crisis, she must scrap Chequers & broker an improved deal that ensures timber can clear customs freely

This article is by Martin Whitfield, MP for East Lothian and Chair of the Timber Industries APPG

 

Earlier this month, Theresa May reaffirmed to the Conservative Party Conference her ‘personal mission’ to fix our housing crisis. Yet in the same speech, she reiterated her commitment to her Chequers Plan, which would crash the UK out of the Customs Union and Single Market after we leave the EU. In fact, the Chequers plan will fundamentally fail to retain any customs arrangements with the European Union. 
 
Without frictionless trade, I believe we face a clear challenge to build the number of homes the Prime Minister has committed to providing over this parliament.
 
This challenge exists because the supply of timber is essential to meeting housing demands. This sector, which contributes £10bn to the UK economy each year is still hugely reliant on trade with EU countries. Incredibly, 90% of the timber used to build homes in the UK is imported from across Europe. 
 
Whilst we do grow and harvest timber in this country, we simply don’t have enough to fill the void that will be left after Brexit. Even if we had the space, the time it takes to grow the trees does not meet the immediate housebuilding demands we face.  
 
Timber businesses across the country, including those in my own constituency of East Lothian, have strong relationships with several European countries and have built successful enterprises which employ over 200,000 people across the UK. This workforce is reliant on these imports. 

Our current relationship is remarkably simple; timber entering the UK from the EU clears ports immediately with no need for customs checks to be carried out. These materials are instantly available to be used or sold. Leaving the EU threatens the simplicity and efficiency of this arrangement. 
 
The realities of a poor deal or even no-deal after we leave is that these imports will be sitting in custom checks for weeks. A clear practical challenge which would face the industry is this; whilst the timber was being checked through customs, it could not be used or sold, and would need to be stored by the company. This is placing a significant logistical and financial burden on businesses, many of which are SMEs, many of which will not easily absorb these additional costs. 
 
Housebuilding and timber go hand in hand. The sector is already stepping up the challenge with new factories, skills-training and solutions. Current output stands at around 60,000 homes per year. This could grow to over 100,000 by 2020 using existing capacity. We have a great deal to be positive about within this sector, but the government is putting this progress at risk. 
 
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Timber Industries, I am going to make the case today that our housing needs are reliant on continued access to the Customs Union and Single Market. If the Prime Minister is serious about solving the housing crisis, she must start by scrapping Chequers and broker an improved deal that ensures timber can clear customs freely after we leave.

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-if-government-wants-build-more-houses-it-needs-workable-brexit-deal]

CIT Blog - Keeping reputation through responsible sourcing

This blog post is by TTF Managing Director and Member of CTI Board of Directors David Hopkins. It originally featured in the CTI Newsletter Winter 2017-18.

 

The recent legal cases concerning breaches of the European Timber Regulation (EUTR), in the UK and in Holland, are a stark reminder of the timber sector’s obligations in moral and legal terms. The two cases involved companies at different points of the supply chain, with differing cases against them, and markedly differing levels of punishment.

The first involved high street furniture chain Lombok. It was charged with not having conducted sufficient due diligence over the importation of a single item of furniture – a sideboard from India. There was no allegation that the item itself contained illegally harvested material. The charge was simply that insufficient due diligence had been conducted to confidently state it was of “negligible risk” – a clear legal requirement before placing goods on the market.

The second case, in Holland, did involve illegally harvested material. The Dutch authorities have ruled that Boogaerdt Hout placed illegally sourced teak from Myanmar onto the market. The company has been given two months to clear the material out of its supply chain or face fines of EUR20,000 per cubic metre. This follows a similar case in Sweden last year concerning Teak from Myanmar.

Both show the importance of conducting strict due diligence throughout timber supply chains. Without this in place how can one safely say there is, or is not, “negligible risk” to the materials we place on the market.

If we cannot say there is negligible risk, then we cannot say the timber we are selling is safe, and the reputation of the entire timber sector is called into question. In the minds of much of the public all timber is the same. Even Kevin McCloud made this mistake with his comments at UK Construction Week, despite the construction sector largely being served by certified European timber.

The real crime here though is that, as 21st century business regulation goes, compliance with the EUTR is relatively straightforward. It is a flexible, business friendly approach which allows companies to make their own judgements on their own supply chains. It doesn’t prevent trade, it enables it on a level playing field basis.

It’s why we are lobbying the Government to maintain the EUTR post-Brexit, and through the CTI’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Timber Industries, have got several politicians to ask questions in the house confirming the government’s future commitment.

We want to keep the reputation of the timber sector very high. The way to do that is to engage fully with the process of due diligence, make it simple and effective and be proud to demonstrate and articulate what we’re doing. The TTF will be reviewing its own Responsible Purchasing Policy (RPP) processes and mechanisms again in 2018 and working with Government and the Timber Industries APPG to ensure that regulation is something that we help design ourselves, rather than something which is imposed.

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cit-blog-keeping-reputation-through-responsible-sourcing]