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Letter from Ed - International Standard Proposed to Control Pests in Wood Packaging
An international task force gathers to begin considering restrictions on imported wood packaging to provide protection against unwanted pests.

By Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 8/1/2000

A relatively short time ago the Asian long-horned beetle problem in Chicago made national news. Wooden packaging coming from China was the culprit. Since then international concerns about wooden packaging have been more common. Much wooden packaging is made of relatively low-grade lumber, which often receives less attention and treatment than higher grade, more expensive lumber.

Within the last year or so, international concerns about wooden packaging have become more widespread. Restrictions have been placed on incoming wooden packaging in countries as diverse as China, Brazil and Finland.

I have heard several industry experts predict that international restrictions will grow. Their best guess has been that some form of heat treatment of wooden packaging most likely will be required.

The reasons for placing restrictions on incoming wooden packaging range from retribution, such as China’s reaction to U.S. restrictions on wooden packaging coming from that country, to various genuine concerns about unwanted pests and parasites.

An international task force met in Ottawa, Canada recently to address this issue. The task force was composed of 20 people from such diverse countries as Chile, Vietnam, Mauritius, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea, and Italy.

Gordon Hughes, executive general manager of the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association (CWPCA), was asked to represent the pallet industry. In addition to Gordon, the task force included two other Canadian representatives and two from the U.S.

"It is somewhat unusual for international task forces to include industry representatives," Gordon noted. "My presence was looked on with suspicion by some in the international committee, but it makes sense to have people who understand the workings of a product and industry to provide needed insight."

The task force met four days, discussing the problem of exporting unwanted pests in wooden packaging and how to deal with it. They came up with a recommendation that they will present to 163 governments around the world. Individual countries have two years to respond, proposing changes and amendments. At the end of the two years, another meeting is planned to consider the suggestions. The task force is then expected to present a final document to the World Trade Organization for international acceptance.

The proposal involves non-manufactured wood products or wood in its natural form. (Manufactured wood products, which are not considered to be a problem, include materials such as plywood and oriented strand board.) The basic agreement is that all non-manufactured wood products used in the movement of products or part of a consignment must be manufactured using kiln dried material that has been treated to 56 degrees Celsius for at least 30 minutes at the core of the wood. The wood must not contain pest holes or any signs of pests.

Non-manufactured wood packing will be required to carry the KD 56-30 stamp and, if required, a phytosanitary certificate would accompany the shipment to ensure its authenticity. A phytosanitary certificate is an official document that attests to the status of any consignment affected by plant-pest regulations.

All finished non-manufactured wood packaging will be marked with a stamp that is agreed upon by all wooden pallet, packaging and container associations and organizations around the world. The stamp will identify the country, using the United Nations short form and a number issued by each country’s pallet/packaging organization and monitored by plant health inspection officials from each country. If an inspection of imported pallets or boxes and finds pests or signs of pests, the stamp will allow the wood packaging to be traced to the country of origin.

Penalties were not discussed at the meeting. If a country has to pay for fumigating imported wooden packaging, it will reflect back on the exporting country and pallet supplier.

Bilateral agreements are currently used between some large trading partners, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, U.S., and Mexico. The plant protection agency of any importing country can exempt any other contracting party (exporter) from requirements for non-manufactured wood packaging material where the pest risk is demonstrated to be adequately managed by existing or proposed procedures. The two countries’ plant protection agencies would confirm these arrangements bilaterally.

A country that cannot guarantee the KD 56-30 requirement can be asked to pay for fumigation at the importing port of entry or be forced to import KD 56-30 from a producing country to use in its wooden packaging.

If this international agreement is accepted, it may impact the U.S. more than many other developed countries. Our country is larger and is a very active trading partner internationally. Also, the U.S. depends more heavily on hardwoods in its packaging than many other countries. Estimates are that hardwood pallets may makeup about two-thirds of our pallets, while in Canada the hardwood-softwood mixture might be reserved. In Europe, most pallets and boxes are manufactured using softwoods. It is more difficult and costly to kiln dry hardwoods than softwoods, so it could cause some problems in the U.S. Of course, it may present opportunities as well.

Concerned parties have a couple of years to express their opinions before this proposed agreement is finalized.

I understand the reason we should consider international regulations for wooden packaging and agree that they may be necessary. However, international governing is being viewed with increased suspicion by many people, including me.

The positive side of this issue is that our industry has the time to study the proposal and decide if it really is for the common good. I suggest that interested parties discuss this with the CWPCA and the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association leadership because they exist to be voices for the pallet industry.

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