Not Yet Out of the Woods: Australia's Attempt to Regulate Illegal Timber Imports and World Trade Organisation Obligations

Australian International Law Journal, Vol. 19, pp. 143-160, 2012

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 13/04

18 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2013 Last revised: 22 May 2013

See all articles by Ben Saul

Ben Saul

The University of Sydney Law School

Tim Stephens

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: January 21, 2013

Abstract

This article examines an attempt by the Australian Government in 2011-12 to restrict the import into Australia of timber products logged illegally in foreign states. The Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill pursues Australia’s interests in environmental protection (including sustainability, biological diversity, and pollution control) and countering corruption, while engaging Australia’s commitments under World Trade Organisation law. This article assesses whether the Bill safely navigates the competing norms and values of these different regimes. It finds that while the Bill pursues legitimate environmental purposes, aspects of it raise potential problems of incompatibility with WTO law because it takes a decentralised national standards approach, imposing trade restrictions on the import of timber harvested unlawfully in the place where it was logged, and thus giving rise to differential treatment of timber products from different countries. While this article disagrees with a recent assessment of the Bill as being clearly inconsistent with WTO rules, it acknowledges that the Bill raises certain problems of potential inconsistency, which will depend on the quantification of certain unclear costs and benefits under the scheme, the scope and interpretation of environmental exceptions in WTO law, and the nature of implementing regulations yet to be enacted. This article also considers the main regulatory alternative to the Bill, namely the creation of uniform Australian environmental standards for all timber products.

Keywords: illegal timber, international environmental law, World Trade Organisation, international trade law, Australia

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Saul, Ben and Stephens, Tim, Not Yet Out of the Woods: Australia's Attempt to Regulate Illegal Timber Imports and World Trade Organisation Obligations (January 21, 2013). Australian International Law Journal, Vol. 19, pp. 143-160, 2012; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 13/04. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2204866

Ben Saul (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia

HOME PAGE: http://https://sydney.edu.au/law/about/people/profiles/ben.saul.php

Tim Stephens

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
73
Abstract Views
583
rank
338,013
PlumX Metrics