In 2019 the two founding members of the consortium, at the time deeply concerned about sharply rising volumes of Russian birch plywood being sold at extremely low prices into the EU, set out to formally ask the European Commission to investigate the deteriorating situation in light of fair trade rules.

The European Commission confirmed unfair practices in December 2020, and as a result imposed protective tariffs on all imports of Russian birch plywood of up to 15.8%.

In the absence of such countermeasures, known as “anti-dumping duties”, the European Union birch plywood industry could have gone out of business, with the resultant loss of employment and investment, particularly in rural areas.

After the EU imposed the duties, the Woodstock Consortium and its supporters noticed serious instances of Russian industry trying to get around the duties above, principally by importing product through other countries that had no duty imposed, and passing it off as originating from those countries or elsewhere.

In July 2023, the Consortium therefore filed a formal Request with the Commission to investigate this ‘circumvention’, therein providing prima facie evidence and numerous real-world examples of attempts to go around duties, which by now meant that the more recent sanctions imposed by the European Commission against the Russian exporting producers were also being circumvented.

The Commission’s investigated and its findings resulted in the extension of anti-dumping duties to ALL imports from the first two countries investigated for such circumvention, namely, Kazakhstan and Türkiye. The swift imposition of retroactive measures sent a strong signal that the EU is united not only in upholding fair trade, but also in preventing illegal circumvention on what was now sanctioned conflict timber.

The development marks a critical step in the crack down on multiple unlawful practices. Duties will be collected by national customs authorities retroactively, from the date the Commission started to investigate in August 2023. Furthermore, the findings will have triggered collaborative enforcement initiatives involving national authorities and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) to shine a spotlight on potential customs fraud, non-compliance with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), and wholesale evasion of sanctions.

Implicated operators, including importers, traders, and some end-users in the EU may face additional penalties because of these additional investigations and checks. Serious consequences and liabilities, enforceable under distinct legal frameworks – including criminal statutes in multiple EU countries, are set to apply to those engaged in such activities.

The Woodstock Consortium urges continued vigilance from the Commission, Member State authorities, and all involved parties and market players, including those institutions that finance imports, to do everything possible to check on and to prevent the emergence of new circumvention schemes aimed at importing what are by now sanctioned wood products from Russia into the EU market.