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World Ocean Day: How customs procedures protect the environment

Awareness of the need to protect the environment has been increasing in recent years, with occasions like World Environment Day, 5th June, and World Ocean Day, 8th June, growing in popularity around the globe. 

With the spotlight on the environment, and all governments striving towards net-0 carbon emissions by 2050, what are global supply chains doing to help protect the environment?

In many countries, commodities that can have an impact on the environment are heavily regulated during transit, and audited when processing customs clearances, to prevent illegal or unethically sourced goods from entering supply chains. Goods that do not comply with regulations will be rejected, and potentially destroyed, on arrival. 

In the UK, port health and plant health authorities protect the public, animal and environmental health of the UK on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). A part of their role is to provide additional checks on documentation to confirm that the goods are responsibly sourced and safe to enter the UK.

Here are some examples of how DEFRA procedures protect the environment:

Catch certificates

World Ocean Day has gained popularity in the last few years due to the increased awareness in dwindling fish populations and damage to barrier reefs. Catch certificates are an essential component in preventing illegal fishing and overfishing to ensure that populations are maintained.

Catch certificates confirm that the fish were caught by a licensed vessel, comply with an approved fishing regime, and that the shipment has been correctly documented to avoid the integration of illegal fish into the supply chain.

Phytosanitary certificates

Phytosanitary certificates are required for all plant products that are entering the UK. This documents the species of the plant, where the shipment was harvested, and that the goods have been inspected by a certified body. 

Species of plants that are potentially harmful to the UK environment, or that are due to be planted in UK soil, can be selected for further examination on import. 

UKTR and UK FLEGT certification

The UK Timber Regulations (UKTR) and the UK Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (UK FLEGT) authorities monitor the trade of wood and wood products, such as paper. This is to ensure that these commodities have been responsibly sourced, and sufficiently treated, before entering supply chains that demand these requirements.

A phytosanitary certificate is required for importing timber, and must be presented to the forestry commission on import, along with the commercial documents. The forestry commission physically inspects some shipments to ensure that the wood being imported is safe to be released into the UK.

A FLEGT license is issued in countries that are part of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to guarantee that standards for ethical production are being met. At present, Indonesia are the only country that have fully implemented the VPA but other tropical countries have begun the process of adopting these regulations, too. 

Outside of the UKTR and UK FLEGT authorities are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) trust marks. These organisations are responsible for monitoring suppliers of timber products and the chain of custody as goods are transported and sold. 

How to take part this World Ocean Day

World Ocean Day is not only for recognising the efforts made by global supply chains and customs authorities to protect the environment. 

Millions of people around the world take part by eating sustainably sourced food, reducing their plastic and energy use, participating in beach cleans, and donating to environmental organisations. With the UK coming out of lockdown, World Ocean Day is a fantastic reason to get social (from a distance), too.

If you want more information on how to be compliant when importing and exporting environmentally sensitive commodities, please contact one of our customs experts.

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