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
18 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2013 Last revised: 22 May 2013
Date Written: January 21, 2013
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: Suggested Citation