Deforestation-free value chains must not shut out small producers

12 June 2024
ITC News

(Geneva, Switzerland) Deputy Executive Director Dorothy Tembo delivered her opening remarks at the Deforestation-Free Value Chains Roundtable, part of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Environment session.

Chair, Ambassador Erwin Bollinger of Switzerland; Ms. Dora Correia, Director for trade relations with Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions, South and South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Trade and Sustainable Development, the Green Deal, European Commission, DG Trade; distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen – greetings and welcome to this roundtable event on deforestation-free value chains.

On behalf of the International Trade Centre, I would like to thank the Committee on Trade and Environment for giving us such a warm welcome, and for their support in dedicating this thematic session to this important subject.

I would also like to thank the European Commission, whose support made it possible for us to host this roundtable as part of our project facilitating developing country participation in this committee.

We began these roundtables in 2022, responding to the threat that the world’s forests face and the role of agricultural commodity production.

As we all know, the state of our forests has become increasingly dire due to climate change, natural disasters, invasive species, overexploitation, and land use change. This poses grave risks in economic, environmental, and social terms.

Our forests are home to millions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and hold much of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. They provide essential livelihoods and are important carbon sinks.

We must ensure the long-term protection of those livelihoods and enable economic growth, all while reducing forest loss drastically.

Research by our colleagues at Global Canopy, for instance, shows that agricultural commodity production contributes to the vast majority of tropical deforestation—well over 90%. Some of the heaviest commodity-driven forest losses in recent years have been seen in Brazil, Indonesia, and China when looking at data from 2019-2021.

This must change. We cannot deliver on the Paris Agreement, nor the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, without tackling the key drivers of forest loss—and with the climate COP29 and biodiversity COP16 both drawing near, we must send a clear signal that we are committed to achieving global deforestation-free value chains.

Historically, national and international efforts have involved setting up national forest monitoring systems and baselines, along with establishing protected areas and undertaking sustainable forest and community management.

More recently, governments have started taking a closer look at their supply chains and how these help—or hurt—our forests, and are putting in place national standards, initiatives, and trade-related environmental regulations to respond. These steps yield even greater benefits when everyone affected is involved.

As more of these initiatives emerge, we must ensure that producers, especially the smallest, do not experience undue burdens trying to comply with too many overlapping standards and regulations, or end up shut out of supply chains because they are unaware of what’s required.

This conversation must bring together all supply chain actors, from farmers, processors, and brokers, to standards bodies, buyers, and government authorities.

We must ensure that our actions lead to a better future for our forests and the people who rely on them.

We must make the most of new digital technologies, which can play a critical role in supply chain traceability and in making agricultural production more sustainable.

We must figure out, together, what solutions work best, and where we can combine and harmonize our efforts, while making sure these are inclusive, locally-relevant, and properly funded.

South-South cooperation among regions that are home to vast tropical forests will be an important part of the equation.

This is exactly the kind of conversation that forums like the Committee on Trade and Environment make possible. The establishment of this committee, 30 years ago following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round, was a historic moment for economic and environmental governance, and its importance cannot be overstated.

ITC stands ready to continue supporting these conversations, and we look forward to sharing with you soon a new online platform to help tackle the forest challenge, known as the “deforestation-free trade gateway.”

It brings together some of ITC’s best online tools to help supply chain actors navigate this new landscape, with the goal of helping them tackle deforestation effectively.

Thank you all, and I wish you a productive session.