The 2019 amendments to the EPA stem from parliamentary motions which demanded “a level playing field for Swiss timber exports with their European competitors”. Until now, Switzerland has had no provisions on combatting illegal timber harvesting, which the EU has had since 2013. The amendment now bans the placing on the market of illegally harvested timber and wood products. Due diligence and traceability are also enshrined in the legislation.
The new provisions (35e - 35h EPA) combat, among other things, deforestation and biodiversity loss globally. They help to protect the climate. Trade barriers with the EU are also removed for Swiss businesses (particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)).
Illegal timber harvesting is a global problem with negative environmental, economic and social repercussions. The aim of the TTO is to ensure that no timber and wood products that have been illegally harvested or traded are placed on the market in Switzerland.
The content of the Swiss TTO largely corresponds to that of the Timber Trade Regulation of the European Union (Regulation EU No 995/2010). This is the condition for the removal of trade barriers with the EU as demanded by Parliament.
Affected are firstly businesses placing timber on the market in Switzerland for the first time, known as initial operators; secondly, traders who buy or resell timber and wood products within Switzerland.
Anyone importing timber and wood products into Switzerland for the first time is responsible for ensuring that they are legally harvested and traded. These initial operators must therefore apply due diligence: They must be able to prove that they have systematically assessed the risks and have reduced any that exist to a negligible level.
Traders must keep records of the suppliers from which they have obtained timber and wood products and the users to whom they have been passed on. They do not have to document delivery to consumers.
The Annex to the TTO lists timber and wood products in 19 product categories with customs tariff numbers. All the products classified under those numbers are covered. The products include timber, paper, pulp, firewood, wood-based materials, lumber and furniture and prefabricated buildings made of wood. The TTO does not apply to products made from used wood (recycled) or bamboo.
Ordinance on the placing of timber and wood products on the market (Timber Trade Ordinance, TTO)
Annex 1 - Timber and wood products covered by this ordinance
Packaging material made from timber or wood products that is used exclusively as such to support, protect or carry another product placed on the market is not covered. However, if empty packaging material is imported from a third country, it falls within the Timber Trade Ordinance and compliance with due diligence is required.
No, the TTO does not apply retrospectively. Products placed on the market before 1 January 2022 can continue to be resold. The TTO only applies to products imported into Switzerland after 1 January 2022.
However, initial operators must prove during inspections by the FOEN that they have used a due diligence system since 1 January 2022. They must therefore be able to establish which deliveries were made before and which were made after that date.
For traders, the obligation to guarantee traceability also applies from that date.
Yes, all imports are covered by this new TTO regulation. Initial operators must also perform a risk assessment for imports from the EU. If certification of first placing on the market in the EU exists, it will generally be accepted as proof. If there is reason to assume that Swiss initial operators of products from the EU have not considered risks, the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) may carry out checks.
Yes. Any forest owner who harvests and sells timber or uses it in the course of a commercial activity is deemed to be an initial operator. This applies even if the forest owner employs service providers such as forestry businesses for timber harvesting or marketing.
Initial operators placing timber on the market which is harvested in the Swiss forests can assume that the permit for use and any other approved documents on use (e.g. business plan) contain the necessary information. Accordingly, they are required to retain these documents proving “legal harvesting”. Proof of risk assessment and mitigation is generally provided by the abovementioned documents.
The precondition is introduction of this regulation – which is identical to the EUTR – and its enforcement. If the EU expresses its willingness, discussions will be held in future about a mutual recognition agreement.
The TTO represents a great opportunity for Swiss companies that export timber products to the EU. Their products will become more attractive in the EU (trade barrier removal, annual exports to the EU totalling CHF 1.5 billion). This is because the risks from Swiss products can be assessed as low by the EU initial operators due to enforcement of the new TTO in Switzerland (similar to that in the EU). The TTO also combats global deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change.
Importance for businesses
Businesses placing timber and wood products on the market in Switzerland for the first time (initial operators) and traders reselling them.
If the agent acts on behalf of a Swiss business, the Swiss business is the initial operator.
To ensure that only timber and wood products which are legal come on the market, businesses must establish a system of due diligence. It comprises three elements:
- Provision of information
- Risk assessment
- Measures to mitigate the risk of placing illegal timber and wood products on the market
This must all be documented, including from whom the business has obtained timber or wood products and to whom they have been passed on. The due diligence system must be used continuously and updated regularly.
The scientific name of the wood species, the trade name and the country of origin (timber harvesting country) must be documented. If in a particular country there are different risks of illegal timber harvesting or even differences at concession level on a regional basis, the region and, where applicable, the concession must be known. It is also obligatory to document the quantity and the supplier contact details. Proof of compliance with the relevant legal regulations in the country of origin must also be available.
Initial operators are required to perform a risk assessment. The assessment covers the actual risk that the timber or wood product they are placing on the market has originated from illegal harvesting. In particular, the risk assessment must consider:
- specific information on the timber product concerned such as wood species, country of origin and quantity
- general information such as the distribution of illegal timber harvesting in specific tree species
- prevalence of illegal harvesting practices at the timber harvesting location
- complexity of the supply chain
- regulations in the country of origin and the corresponding risk of corruption
If the risk assessment reveals that the risk of illegal timber harvesting or trading is not negligible, initial operators must effectively limit the risk as far as possible. This is done using a risk mitigation process. In specific terms, all appropriate investigations and measures must be carried out to reduce to a negligible level the likelihood of illegally harvested timber and wood products being placed on the market. As an example, checks by independent third parties may be appropriate. Initial operators must not place the timber or wood products on the market until additional measures and investigations show that the risk is negligible.
Yes. If the wood used for the timber product originates from different sources, which may for example be the case with an item of furniture, the risk for each component and each wood type and its origin must be assessed separately. The system used must be applied to each wood type and each timber product from the supplier concerned.
No. Certified products are also covered by the provisions. But independently checked certificates which allow the legality of the timber harvesting or trade to be verified may be incorporated in the risk assessment.
If countries of origin operate systems and issue documents which allow a simple and credible check on the legality of supplies, those documents should be examined when the timber or wood product is imported. Currently, for example, the legal export of timber from Indonesia can only be proved by means of an Indonesian timber legality verification certificate (SVLK). For every import from Indonesia, the certificate number must be given in the “Documents” column of the customs declaration. If a valid verification certificate number is not given, a TTO-based check is likely to be required, and will be subject to a fee.
Enforcement and checking
The FOEN mainly performs risk-based checks on compliance with the provisions of the Ordinance. This means, for example, that initial operators importing very large quantities of timber from high-risk countries into Switzerland are checked as a priority. The form and use of the due diligence system and whether it is up-to-date are checked. The risk assessment and mitigation measures and their documentation are also checked.
Deliberate violations of the ban and the provisions on due diligence are offences that carry a prison term of up to three years or fines. Deliberate violations of the provisions on traceability carry fines of up to CHF 20,000.
The cantons are responsible for the checks. Timber harvesting in Switzerland requires a permit for forestry use that is comprehensively checked on a regional basis by the cantons. Here the enforcement tasks under forestry legislation and the TTO are combined.
Last modification 06.05.2022