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What is involved and what does it imply?

Recent years have seen many calls for 'mutual recognition' between the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and programs endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), or other forest certification programs. Dr. Lim of the Malaysian Timber Certification (MTC) scheme has "urged all relevant parties to collaborate and work towards establishing mutual recognition among credible certification schemes." Similarly, the U.S.-based Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) proposes that: "[The] SFI program, CSA and PEFC support [mutual recognition], as do forestry interests from countries in South America, Oceania and Asia with developing certification programs.”

In support of its mutual recognition stance, SFI argues that:

"The combination of [these] interests under a mutual recognition framework would present a formidable network of credible programs. It would bring a substantial percentage of the world’s forest products to market with the assurance they contribute to sustainable forest management. Efforts that discourage exclusivity, and encourage a diversity of mutually recognized certification programs, would:

• Enhance sustainable forest management worldwide;

• Increase the supply of certified products, meeting customer demand;

• Increase pressure against illegal logging and non-sustainable practices;

• Make wood more competitive with non-renewable alternatives;

• Avoid restraints on trade."

However, in a thinly veiled reference to the FSC program, SFI notes that: “Other certification programs have so far declined invitations to participate in the effort." 

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently addressed mutual recognition issues, reporting that: 

"Some rivalry between certification systems means that the two major systems (FSC and PEFC) do not envisage mutual recognition despite the preference for this option from the wood industry and mid-chain wholesalers and retailers. As a result, some public and private forests are being certified by multiple systems." (FAO, 20064). 

From these statements, it appears that only FSC is the dog-in-the-manger, creating unnecessary burdens for the industry and obstructing international efforts to achieve more sustainable forest management.

But what is 'mutual recognition'? Would it deliver the benefits its proponents suppose? And does FSC, in fact, object to the concept?

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