The 56th session of the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC) and the Associated Sessions of its four Committees convened virtually from 9-13 November 2020. The Council discussed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on tropical forests and timber, and debated whether to extend the treaty that governs the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

As reported by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, the Council session opened with the preliminary findings of an ITTO study on the impacts of the pandemic on the tropical forest sector and the tropical timber industry. The report notes that the entire timber and forest products sector was affected by severe drops in consumption, production, employment, and trade, but tropical timber and products were hit even harder.

“Many enterprises are failing, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, and unemployment, rising poverty, and reverse migration (from urban to rural) is putting new pressure on forests and their resources. Supply chains have been disrupted, and the resulting changes may completely reshape supply and value chains in the post-pandemic period. The bottom line, suggests the ITTO study, is that tropical timber may not recover until 2026,” according to ENB. One delegation noted the need for strong ITTO leadership over the next 12-24 months.

The Council also debated whether to extend the 2006 treaty that governs the ITTO, the International Tropical Timber Agreement, 2006, which is due to expire in December 2021. The treaty expires on 7 December 2021 unless the Council decides to extend, renegotiate, or terminate it.

ENB reports that delegates who spoke indicated support for extending the Agreement for another five years, but some Member States said they would need time to complete domestic and legal consultations before they could formally agree on such a decision. This decision was postponed until ITTC-57, which will meet just before the deadline for the treaty to expire. 

The Council also adopted the ITTO Biennial Work Programme for 2021-2022, and decisions on:

  • the next phase of the ITTO’s New Financing Architecture, instituting a programmatic approach to financing and streamlined project cycle;
  • the extension of the current ITTO Strategic Action Plan (SAP) through 2021 so the ITTO Secretariat can prepare and present a new draft SAP; and
  • the selection of the next ITTO Executive Director.

The Council Chair said the adoption of five key decisions during the meeting was due to rebuilt trust between the caucuses and a restored “sense of family” within the ITTO. As reported by ENB, the pledging of USD 3.5 million during ITTC-56, “most of it from ITTO’s traditionally largest donor, Japan, that had withheld donations in the wake of ITTO’s financial impairment scandal, plus the news that some USD 40 million may be forthcoming soon from various pending funding proposals, helped buttress this sense that ITTO is slowly but steadily making its comeback.”

The Council agreed to convene its next session from 2-7 November 2021 in the ITTO host city, Yokohama, Japan. [Earth Negotiations Bulletin meeting coverage]