Retailers on Tuesday advised the House Committee on Natural Resources' subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife oceans and insular affairs that several significant compliance challenges have emerged from the 2008 Lacey Act Amendment that deserve attention from Congress.
The law requires importers to provide to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service details such as the genus, species and country of harvest for products that include wood materials.
Laurie Everill, regional customer and compliance manager for IKEA-North America, told the committee the law places a heavy burden on importers.
“It is impossible from looking at or testing wood to determine whether it was illegally harvested,” Everill said in remarks prepared for the hearing. “This exposes companies potentially to millions of dollars in losses through no fault of their own.”
The subcommittee hearing addressed two measures intended to address the controversy – H.R. 3210 (Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act, or RELIEF Act), sponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and H.R. 4171 (Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act, or FOCUS Act), sponsored by Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.
“The current bills in the House – Tennessee Congressman Cooper’s RELIEF Act and Georgia Congressman Broun’s FOCUS Act – have raised awareness of members of Congress and the public to the practical challenges related to the Lacey Act Amendments,” said Everill. “However, neither of these bills would adequately address these challenges, and in order to be credible, any change needs to be supported by the environmental community.
“We are looking for a new legislative approach that effectively addresses the issues of business stakeholders, stands the best chance of generating broad, bipartisan support in Congress and all stakeholders, but without undermining the very important goal to stop illegal logging.”
The Retail Industry Leaders Association said retailers support the goals of the Lacey Act to end the illegal taking of trees and plants throughout the world. But the association said to make implementation of the law more targeted and effective, retailers seek changes to the law that would simplify the import declaration, ensure due process, clarify the scope of applicable foreign laws and regulations, and exclude products manufactured before the Lacey Act Amendment was enacted in 2008.
“While retailers strongly support efforts to combat illegal logging, there is a growing recognition that compliance with the Lacey Act is very difficult,” said Stephanie Lester, RILA’s vice president for international trade. “Simple changes to the law would help retailers comply and achieve the policy goals shared by RILA, our members and the law’s most strident advocates.”
Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation said it is working with the Natural Resources Committee to develop a new bill to provide due process to importers who have done proper due diligence to ensure their products contain no illegally harvested wood or plant material.
“Retailers recognize the need for environmental conservation but the current law leaves them guessing on which products are legal and which aren’t,” NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said. “Congress needs to carefully review the Lacey Act to ensure that the goal of eliminating illegal logging is its primary objective, not penalizing businesses that are doing their best to comply with an unworkable law.” - Eric Johnson