Statement by Craig S. Forester
Representing the International Wood Products Association
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans
October 16, 2007
Good morning. I am Craig Forester, Vice President and General Manager of Rex Lumber Company. My company is headquartered in Acton, Massachusetts, and we employ more than 350 people in manufacturing operations in four states. I also serve as Chairman of the International Wood Products Association’s Government Affairs Committee.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today – my first time testifying on Capitol Hill. This is a volunteer experience that I will always treasure.
Today I speak on behalf of a coalition of American Wood Suppliers, Distributors, and Users of legal imported wood. We are united in condemning illegal logging. The future of our businesses depends on the legal and sustainable supply of import wood.
Members of our Coalition include:
National Association of Home Builders
National Federation of Independent Business
National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association
American Home Furnishings Alliance
National Marine Manufacturers Association
International Wood Products Association
As this coalition demonstrates, my company is not alone. Together, we represent nearly 745,000 businesses. Housing, flooring, decks, cabinetry, millwork, recreational vehicles, boats, and furniture industries all use imported wood in their U.S. manufacturing facilities supporting hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs from port of entry to trucking millwork, retailers, and end-users.
My family’s small business was started by my grandfather in 1946. From day one, Rex Lumber Company has been a leading advocate for environmental protection. We are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and share their economic, social, and environmental concerns.
I give you this background to let you know that Rex Lumber is playing by the rules. I’m proud of our business and our environmental leadership. We source legally. We trade legally. I travel regularly to Central and South America to visit our long-standing suppliers and to interview possible suppliers.
My testimony before you today will show you that while we share the ideals of H.R. 1497, we are very concerned with the unintended consequences of this legislation as written.
On behalf of the Coalition, I respectfully request the Subcommittee to amend H.R. 1497 to address three specific concerns:
Define “any foreign law” to only address natural resources laws and regulations.
Modify the proposed new documentation requirement to be consistent with current U.S. Customs regulations.
Add an “innocent owner” provision.
For my time here today, I want to focus on my third point – adding an innocent owner provision. My written testimony goes into greater detail on all three of our specific concerns.
It is important to note that under the provisions of H.R. 1497, U.S. importers, manufacturers and distributors are all held responsible for illegal acts overseas -violations that they would have no reasonable expectation to know about, much less the underlying laws that exist in all foreign countries.
The problem is this bill provides no protection for “innocent owners” in the supply chain who handle imported wood products. “Innocent owner” is a simple concept but an important one. In essence, it puts the burden of proof on the government. It reinforces the key principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”
I want to specifically respond to three comments you’ve likely heard related to “innocent owner.”
First – Lacey never had protections for “innocent owner.” Well… the reason that no industry had previously sought a specific “innocent owner” exemption within Lacey is that “innocent owner” had been thought available until a court case in 2005 - the Blue King Crab case. We just want to put this protection back.
Second – You’ve likely heard that you don’t have to prove legality to clear U.S. customs and import goods. This is true. However, how do you disprove a negative should the government seize your goods? That is, how do you prove no law was violated overseas when you are already in possession of legal documents?
Third – That including “innocent owner” would gut this bill. False! “Innocent owner” does not prohibit the government from taking goods that violate foreign laws. The government can still prosecute with “innocent owner” provisions. In fact, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Recovery Act (or CAFRA) and the Brownfields Revitalization Act both specifically give an “innocent owner” defense and neither has stopped the government from prosecuting cases.
Everyone talks in terms of “suspicious” material or levels broad-based accusations of rampant fraud and corruption. I reject these broad assertions and would like to think that these wild, unsupported arguments don’t form the basis for the serious policy matters in front of you today.
I want to conclude with a caution.
To save forests, we must face their biggest threat – land conversion in developing countries by poverty-stricken residents simply trying to survive.
The World Bank noted, and I quote, that “more than 90 percent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty [are] dependent on forests for some part of their livelihoods.” End quote. Without any other incentives, they choose to clear-cut and burn their forests for cattle ranching, agricultural purposes, and fuel wood – life’s basic necessities.
Forests need to remain forests, and the best way to do that is to provide economic incentives for countries to harvest them wisely and sustainably. This bill does nothing to help these people see a future in forests. I understand some may want an anti-trade bill adopted, but this is not the right venue to have that discussion.
Let’s amend the bill to make sure we do no harm to legal businesses and we don’t give any extra incentive for these developing countries to convert their forests to farms.
Unintended consequences of well-intentioned legislation are consequences none-the-less.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify and for your consideration. I look forward to your questions.