Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Gin Kurniawan The Jakarta Post Jepara

Ecolabeling haunts the town of teak wood

Ecolabelling. This world, for most of the furniture makers in Jepara, is just like a ghost. The ecolabeling requirement imposed by some Western countries is not only frightening but is also threatening their existence.

Ecolabeling is so popular, even among thousands of workers involved in the teak furniture industry in the town, the home of over 1,000 large and small furniture makers.

Their future really depends on the ability of local wood producers to obtain the ecolabeling certificate. If not, Jepara could lose its prestige as one of the world's largest teak furniture producers.

Ecolabeling has come to haunt the town since American certification body Rainforest Alliance's (RA) temporarily suspended the ecolabeling certificate awarded to state-owned timber company PT Perhutani in August this year.

Although the suspension would, in fact, become effective on Oct. 20, next week, some importers, particularly from Europe, have reduced their orders. Teak furniture exports from Jepara have declined by over 70 percent since the suspension was imposed.

"Our products were rejected in Germany due to the ecolabeling problem," said Arifin Mubarok, one of the largest furniture exporters in the town.

Arifin, chairman of the local chapter of the Indonesian Indigenous Businessmen's Association (HIPPI), hoped that Perhutani, the only teak supplier in the country, could get similar certificates from other companies.

"If the company fails to get a new one, our exports, particularly to European countries, will be in jeopardy," he added.

According to him, European buyers are very sensitive to the ecolabeling issue. Many importers from the region have halted their orders because the raw materials for Jepara teak furniture are no longer procured from a certified wood producer.

"Based on information I have obtained, many European producers have stopped importing teak furniture from Jepara for ecolabeling reasons," said Akhmad Fauzi, the director of CV Sipra, which produces outdoor furniture.

According to the International Tropical Timber Organization's rules, beginning in 2001, ecolabeling certification should become a prerequisite for producers of tropical wood to gain access to the world's markets.

The measure also affects furniture producers because they should also use raw materials from certified timber companies to sell their products overseas.

PT Perhutani, which produces 700,000 cubic meters of teak per year, is among the first timber companies to have obtained an elolabeling certificate.

According to RA, the suspension was imposed due to the company's noncompliance with the standards required by the Forest Stewardship Council, the Mexico-based international organization that accredits certification firms.

But Perhutani said that the charge was not true. "We will continue to adopt sustainable forest management, with or without the certificate," Perhutani's president Marsanto, M.S. said recently.