- The Trade Ministry intends to waive the requirements for small and medium-sized furniture and handicraft exporters to obtain sustainable timber certification.
- The plan is under fire from several quarters, including the Environment and Forestry Ministry.
- The Eyes on the Forest environmental coalition says there are already too many loopholes in the system.
Green groups and some government officials and entrepreneurs in Indonesia are concerned about the Trade Ministry’s plan to reign in sustainable timber requirements for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the furniture and handicraft industries, seen as a setback for a country that was once synonymous with illegal logging.
The ministry says it will waive the requirements for such businesses to obtain Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK) certification before exporting their products.
“In line with the president’s instruction we are deregulating and debureaucratizing, which is why we will publish this new decree in a day or two,” Nurlaila Nur Muhammad, the Trade Ministry’s export director for forest and agriculture products, told Mongabay.
Specifically, the ministry intends to revise an existing decree which says that after December, SMEs in the aforementioned industries cannot export their products without SVLK certification. At present, these SMEs must only obtain an export declaration before sending their wares abroad. The Trade Ministry wants to eliminate this double verification requirement.
The plan is under fire from several quarters, including the Environment and Forestry Ministry.
Ida Bagus Putera Prathama, the ministry’s director-general of sustainable production-forest management, said the Trade Ministry is wrong to treat the SVLK as if it hinders exports because exports have actually increased since its introduction.
He added that many SMEs have already obtained SVLK certification or are on the path to doing so.
“We are sure that with the Environment and Forestry Ministry facilitating the process, everyone can get SVLK certification,” said his colleague, Agusjusnianto.
Ian Hilman from Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of environmental NGOs, has seen firsthand how illegal timber makes its way to otherwise above-board companies. He said there is still much room for illicit timber to pass through holes in the system.
“When so many loopholes still exist, why reign in the SVLK?” he asked.
Entrepreneurs in the Central Java regency of Jepara, famous internationally as the center of Indonesia’s furniture trade, also expressed concern about the Trade Ministry’s plan.
“It’s a step back, like going from high school to middle school,” local craftswoman Febti Estiningsih told Mongabay.
Upon becoming aware of the SVLK in 2012, Febti strove to learn more about the requirements so she could bring her business, CV Tita International, up to standard.
“There are some who say, ‘Why bother’?” she said. “But I want my business to thrive. I want to upgrade my business with the hope that this system will lift it to new heights.”
She obtained certification in 2013 – and with feelings of relief, pride and confidence. Signs outside her shop alerted passersby to her credentials, and slowly buyers began to trickle in.
“A Japanese customer wandered into my shop and said, ‘Check out this rule, it can bring them positive value’.”
That’s what others who are wary of the Trade Ministry’s plan are thinking, too. Smita Notosusanto, program director at the Multistakeholder Forestry Programme, a cooperation between the Indonesian and British governments, said maybe the ministry isn’t aware of the international trend toward sustainable timber.
“It’s easy to say you want to help people export, but what market will accept their products?” she said. “After a while no one will buy from us.”
Smita also dismissed the notion that the SVLK will hinder timber exports.
“What it will do is boost exports. The EU alone is 28 countries, and all of its members are required to import sustainably managed timber. We also have an agreement with Australia and others.
“If we let this revision happen, we will again become known as the country of illegal timber traffickers.”
Even Lisman Sumarjani, director of the Indonesia Furniture and Handicraft Industry Association (Asmindo), said exporters stand to benefit from the SVLK.
A presentation by EU representatives on the bloc’s sustainable timber requirements given at a trade show in Singapore attests to that, Lisman said.
“Malaysia was afraid. Vietnam panicked,” he recounted. “In my opinion, this can give us an advantage.”
In 2013, Indonesia signed the Voluntary Partnership Agreement on Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT-VPA) with the EU to guarantee the legality of timber products the archipelago ships to Europe.
The process requires thousands of dollars in certification and audit fees, unaffordable for many small carvers.
Some entrepreneurs feel the cost is worth it.
“We need to regulate our timber so that in 20 or 30 years it will still be there for our grandchildren,” said Eva Krisdiana, a timber trader.
Sapariah Saturi. “Tak Wajibkan SVLK, Kebijakan Ekspor Ini Bikin Langkah Mundur Tata Kelola Hutan.” Mongabay-Indonesia. 6 October 2015.
Sapariah Saturi. “Bila Deklarasi Ekspor Abaikan SVLK, Nasib Hutan Bakalan Makin Merana.” Mongabay-Indonesia. 5 October 2015.