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Growing European Forest-Based Industries

The forest-based Industries Forum met in Stockholm in June to present recommendations to the European Commission on how to improve competitiveness and maintain the growth in European forests which have been expanding for about 150 years. Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner...

The forest-based Industries Forum met in Stockholm in June to present recommendations to the European Commission on how to improve competitiveness and maintain the growth in European forests which have been expanding for about 150 years. Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information society, recognised the importance of the industry in maintaining sustainable development. 'Sustainable development is now at the heart of European Union policies. This means an important change in the way we look at individual policy initiatives in the sense that their effects can no longer be considered in isolation,' he said. Mr Lars Rekke, Swedish State Secretary, opened the forum by emphasising the importance of forestry to Europe. 'The forest-based industries constitute one of Europe's largest industrial sectors, providing employment and income to three million people, and accounting for around 10 per cent of the European manufacturing industry's total production value,' he said. Contributors, including industry chief executives and representatives from European Institutions and national governments, discussed three key issues: - sustainable raw material supply - enhanced use of wood - impact assessment for better regulation. The potential impact of the EU White Paper on 'Energy for the future: Renewable sources of energy' which highlights the use of wood products in energy generation, was discussed. While participants were keen to see an increasing role for forestry, there was an awareness that the use of wood for energy could distort the market. In particular, it was stated that wood should be used for products first and energy use second, and that other biomass sources, such as straw, should be promoted. These have a potential equal to several hundred million cubic metres of wood. There should also be more recovery and re-use of wood which could add 40 Mm3 of wood to the present 220 Mm3 produced annually in Europe, it was claimed. Enhancing the use of wood depends on improving benchmarking so that there can be agreement on what is an improvement, for example increasing the use of small dimension timber in building construction. Wider applications of wood in construction, agriculture, furniture and fittings need to be identified, as do the current market and legislative obstacles to increased use. The life cycle analysis of wood products is likely to demonstrate their sustainability and leave them relatively unscathed by any future implementation of eco-taxes. The indirect consequences of legislation were discussed. In particular, problems had arisen from the uneven implementation of the packaging directive. The conference concluded that however the forests are regulated, revenues need to be sufficient to allow the reinvestment necessary for the continuing growth of Europe's forests.