Tropical forests are “in the eye of the storm” amid the world’s current devastating natural disasters and multiple conflicts. These were the words of Mohammed Nurudeen Iddrisu (Ghana), Chair, ITTC, as he opened the fifty-ninth session of the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC-59) in Pattaya, Thailand.
Member countries face some crucial decisions in Pattaya. First, they must consider the future of the current International Tropical Timber Agreement of 2006, which is set to expire in 2026. They also need to address the decline in members’ financial contributions, fundraising to support future projects, and positioning tropical timber in the context of current international interest in, and support for, action on climate change and biodiversity loss.
Hosted by the Royal Forest Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand, ITTC-59 opened with warm welcomes from the Governor of Chonburi province and the Mayor of Pattaya, and thanks from delegates representing Producer and Consumer member countries of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).
Chayanan Pakdeejit, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand, noted the challenge of combating illegal logging. She called for promoting legal trade in timber, cooperating with stakeholders, especially those in the private sector, and encouraging the use of wood that is derived from sustainable forest management (SFM). She also highlighted the importance for ITTO of supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, and building resilience.
Ambassadors from Peru and Colombia also delivered opening statements to the plenary. Roberto Seminario Portocarrero, Peruvian Ambassador to Japan, identified ITTO’s important role in forest restoration, use and competitiveness of timber products, market information, legal and sustainable supply chains, biodiversity, climate adaptation, and forest-dependent communities’ livelihoods. Ana María Prieto Abad, Colombian ambassdor to Thailand, noted that ITTO has been instrumental in promoting the interests of both Producer and Consumer member countries and expressed pride that, by making best use of forests and biodiversity, “we are protecting humanity.”
The Producer and Consumer caucuses convened separately before the lunch break.
In the afternoon, Sheam Satkuru, Executive Director, ITTO, presented her statement to Council, in which she emphasized the need for the ITTC’s diverse membership to cooperate and undertake shared responsibility. In view of the ongoing difficulties with achieving a quorum of members at Council meetings, she reported members’ concerns about the benefits of paying assessed contributions compared to other funding sources that do not require paid contributions, and the shortage of voluntary funding for ITTO projects. Noting ITTO’s dual mandates of achieving SFM in tropical forests and diversifying the trade in legal and sustainably-sourced wood products, and its relevance to climate change and biodiversity goals, she called on members to make known among donor agencies the potential benefits that ITTO can offer. In this respect, she emphasized ITTO’s wealth of on-the-ground experience and its unique mandate on tropical timber.
The Informal Advisory Group (IAG) then presented its report, which includes six proposed draft decisions for consideration by the Council. These include matters relating to possible scenarios for extending the 2006 ITTA to 2029 or beginning its renegotiation. They also include a proposal to establish an ITTO Youth Advisory Group, in addition to the existing Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and Civil Society Advisory Group (CSAG). Producer countries expressed strong interest in the feedback from members on a survey conducted to compile views regarding future arrangements. The Secretariat highlighted its efforts to engage with membership, which provided a high response rate to the survey.
The Committee on Finance and Administration (CFA) met in the late afternoon to address, inter alia: the Draft Biennial Administrative Budget for 2024 and 2025; contributions to the Administrative Budgets; the current status of the Administrative Account; resources for projects; and the Auditor’s Report for 2022. It was noted that Producer countries must meet increasing restrictions in some Consumer countries, such as the EU’s restrictions on timber and agricultural imports, but while this requires financial support, the trend in voluntary contributions for projects has been decreasing.
In parallel with the CFA, the Committee on Economics, Statistics and Markets and the Committee on Forest Industry (CEM-CFI) met jointly. Projects in India, Malaysia and Peru were recommended for approval, and completion of projects in Ghana, Mozambique and Honduras was reported. They also discussed possibilities of conducting ex-post evaluations of completed projects.
In the evening, the Thai Royal Forest Department and Sheam Satkuru, ITTO Executive Director, hosted delegates at a reception at the Dusit Thani hotel, overlooking the sea.