• Colombia

Legal framework for forest management and timber trade of Colombia

Forest governance

Regulations for conservation and forest management in Colombia are based on the following main laws and regulations:

  • The Forest Law of 1959;
  • Decree 2811 of 1974, which adopted the National Code of Renewable Natural Resources (Código Nacional de Recursos Naturales Renovables y de Protección al Medio Ambiente);
  • The 1993 General Environment Law (Ley General Ambiental, Ley 99), which adopted the National Environmental System;
  • Decree 1791 of 1996, which adopted a forest harvesting regime.

Colombia’s current principal forestry policy is defined in the National Forestry Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo Forestal) published in 2000, which is designed to span 25 years and comprises 16 sub-programs to promote planted forests and natural forest management.

In 2006 a new General Forest Law (Ley General Forestal, Ley 1021) was intended to replace the 1959 forest law. This law was challenged and rejected, on the basis that it did not sufficiently take into account prior consultation with indigenous and tribal people. In 2010, Law 1377 was approved, which permits the use of planted forests for production purposes, even if they were earlier declared as protection forests.

Natural forests and plantations are supervised by three levels of authorities: the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MADS), the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR) and the Regional Autonomous Corporation for Sustainable Development (CAR).

MADS formulates policy on the environment and renewable natural resources and establishes the broad guidelines, rules and criteria for the environmental regulation of land use, including forestry (in close collaboration with MADR regarding commercial forest plantations).

MADR formulate policy, but also guide and direct the formulation of plans, programs and projects for the development of the agricultural, fisheries and rural development sector.

According to Law 1377 (2010), MADR is the main regulating authority for commercial plantation forestry. It formulates policies for commercial forest activities and is implementing an incentive programme (Certificado de Incentivo Forestal) to enhance the commercial forestry value chain.

In addition, there are six cities of more than one million people that control their own Urban Environmental Authority (such as the Environmental Secretariat of Bogota). These 34 CARs and six environmental authorities are responsible for managing and administering all natural resources within their authority, including granting permissions and authorizations for forest harvesting (ITTO, 2011). The CARs, in partnership with the police and military, are also in charge of inspections related to the implementation of forest policies. However, the degree of control exercised by the CARs in charge of forest management is not clear and there may be large differences in the way in which management standards are applied in different parts of the country (ITTO 2006).

The forestry plantations are regulated by Decree 1498 of 2008. To promote direct investment in new forestry plantations, the Colombian state put in place the Forestry Incentive Certificate (CIF), with the Act 139 of 1994 and Decree 1824 of 1994.

Legal rights to harvest

Colombian regulations related to the harvesting of timber resources differentiate between public and private lands, but also between natural forests and plantations. For public land, access is obtained through permits and concession contracts; for private land, special authorizations are required. The documents necessary to harvest legally are listed below (NEPCON, 2017).

In natural forest in protected areas, vacant and private lands, before harvesting, you need to have:

  • The ruling by the Regional Environmental Authority;
  • The forestry management plan;
  • The documents to certify the legal representative;
  • The documents that certify the status of the applicant vis-à-vis the property (owner, holder, or tenant);
  • The copy of the property’s public deed.

For natural forests on communal land, you need:

  • The ruling from the Home Office (Ministerio del Interior) declaring the area as communal land of an ethnic community;
  • The permission, association or consent from the Regional Environmental Authority of the administrative area;
  • The forestry management plan;
  • The authorisation from the leader of the communal land for the forestry activity.

Finally, for forestry plantation and agroforestry systems on private property, you need to present the following documents:

  • The public deed;
  • The certificate of Freedom and tradition;
  • The registration of the plantation before the ICA (If it is productive and/or beneficiary of the Certificate of Forestry Incentive) or ruling of the Regional Environmental Authority (if it is productive-protective);
  • The document that certifies the status of the applicant vis-à-vis the property (owner, holder or tenant).

For the past 30 years, no new forest concessions have been granted in natural forests.

The forest licencing system established in 1974 with Decree 2811 refers to five types of logging permission contracts for forestry land-use for territories with natural coverage (NEPCon, 2017):

  • Permission to log for local users limited to 20m³ per year: no management plan is required
  • Permission to log limited to 200m³ per year for 10 years: this does not demand a management plan and technical help is available from the government
  • Permission to log limited to 2000m³ per year for 10 years: requires a technical logging plan
  • Permission to log limited to 10,000m³ per year for 10 years: demands a management plan and a technical logging plan
  • Unlimited area permits, for which a complete management plan is required

In the public domain, Decree 1791 of 1996 determines that forestry licenses, and a statistical inventory for all species in the area in question must be present in the management plan.

Taxes and fees

In Colombia, the forest harvesting fee only applies to natural forests. Agreement 48 of 1982 establishes the payment method and the various harvesting fees for natural, public and private forests. Agreement 32 of 2015 updated the forest harvesting fees (NEPCon, 2017).

The tax is paid per volume and is variable from one CAR to another. The concession holders or beneficiaries of one-time or permanent public forest harvesting permits shall pay, as national interest, 10% of the basic value of a cubic metre of raw product in the market closest to the harvesting site.

The transportat permit (salvoconducto) has a single price ($ 11.5), for the first stage, second stage, or finished forest products.

Timber harvesting activities

Colombian regulations related to the harvesting of timber resources differentiate between public and private lands.

  • For public land, access is obtained through permits and concession contracts;
  • For private land, special authorizations are required;
  • In natural forests, cutting permits, which include legal requirements for management procedures, are used.

When forests are converted to other land uses or for the development of infrastructure, the law stipulates compensation measures, generally in the form of protective planted forests.

Colombia developed its own set of Criteria and Indicators (C&I) for Sustainable Forest Management, based on the global ITTO C&I for SFM. Although it has no juridical constraints, it is aimed to serve as a tool for environmental authorities to evaluate the implementation of SFM in the field (MinAm, 2021b). The Guidelines and Guidance for Forest Management is a tool to guide forest management processes in the country towards the sustainable management of the forest and its associated ecosystem services and contains all the steps and information needed to produce a Forest Management Plan (MADS, 2020).

The main aspects linked to SFM (Sustainable Forest Management) implementation are the:

  • Forest inventory, basis of the Forest Management Plan, operated per systematic sampling;
  • Forest Management Plan (FMP);
  • Stock survey or logging inventory on the overall annual cutting area;
  • Annual Operation Plan detailing the forecasted operations and the expected production;

Natural forests:
For natural forest a timber harvesting license (resolucion de aprovechamiento) needs to be obtained. Further, a file containing the interest in the acquisition of the forest and general information on the  area must be submitted.  With all these data, an orientation visit is carried out to the owner of the property by the CAR concerned, and by means of a technical concept and official letter the owner will be informed whether a Forest Management Plan (FMP) must be submitted. The realization of a FMP is mandatory for all producing areas.

Producing-protected areas:
For the producing-protected areas put in place before the Law 1450 of 2011 and defined by Act 202 of Decree 2811 of 1974, these areas can remain in place and are not subject to a FMP. If the areas are not defined by the Decree 2811 of 1974, the environmental authority may reclassify them as production areas or protection areas. If they are reclassified as productive, they will then be subject to a FMP.

Private forests
In private forests, forest harvesting is generally carried out under timber license contracts and authorizations granted to private owners by regional corporations (CAR). There are 19 regional corporations in major forest areas, which allocate, on average, about 100 cutting permits per year; nationwide, therefore, about 1900 cutting permits are granted annually. Generally, there is no systematic application of silviculture, even though this is required for ongoing logging activities under Decree 2811, Article 213 from 1974 (ITTO 2006).

Forest management plan approval
If a FMP is necessary, the operator then applies for FMP approval. This application is analysed by the CAR, and approved or refused. If the application is approved, the operator obtains a harvesting permit, and registers the species and volume of wood granted for the harvest, as well as the location of the parcel to be harvested on VITAL.

VITAL (Ventanilla Integral de Trámites Ambientales en Linea), is an online centralized tool used by the Environmental Authorities to automate administrative procedures.

Third parties’ rights

As per law 70 of 1993 and law 165 of 1994 the state has recognized the rights of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to control and use their communal forest territories according to their social and cultural values. As such, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities have obtained titles to more than 35 million hectares of land, of which around 29.8 million hectares are forest. The Indigenous communities have their areas in the wider Amazon region, and the Afro-Colombian communities in the Pacific region.

In some cases, there is an overlap between these titles and the national forest reserves (20.4 million hectares of overlap) and national parks (3.5 million hectares of overlap) (IDEAM 2010). According to the Law 160 of 1994 about half a million hectares are designated as peasant reserves (reservas campesinas), which are set aside as special development areas for rural communities, with the aim to promote and stabilise the peasant economy.

Considering the overlap in titles there is a risk that timber harvesting from these areas may violate indigenous peoples’ rights, and that free, prior and informed consent is not (adequately) obtained from communities for the use of indigenous territories.

Trade and transport

To transport timber a transportat permit (salvoconducto) is needed. This is a document issued by the CAR to authorise the transport of forest products. Transporters or producers must apply for this permit. This application contains the origin of the wood, the necessary transport, the final destination, but also the type of product transported, the species and the volumes involved. After submittance of the application to the CAR, VITAL will automatically check and authorize the CAR to generate a transportation permit if requirements are met. It is then printed on security paper and includes different unique data, such as the origin and destination of the wood, authorized travel time, volume, species, type of product, etc.

The timber registration record (libro de operaciones) corresponds to the record that forestry companies must make at the end of each of their activities. The companies concerned are all the forest enterprises involved in planting, managing, harvesting, processing or marketing of primary or secondary forest or wild flora products. This operation book contains a whole series of information on the activities carried out by the company, such as the dates, weights, species and quantities of wood handled. It also contains the transportation permit number and the origin and destination of the product. The request for these various documents can be made online through the Sistema de Información Ambiental.

With the support of the FAO EU FLEGT Programme, the MADS has developed a roadmap for timber traceability in Colombia. In January 2018, the first concrete implementation of the roadmap consisted in the implementation of a new module in VITAL for the CARs to register harvesting licenses and apply for transportation permits (SUN). The system is mandatory since April 2018.

Timber export
To export forest products, Colombia has put in place a guide with all the procedures to follow, structured in different main steps (Guía para exporter e importer productos maderables y no maderables en Colombia).

To export forest products, you need to be user of the Single Window for Foreign Trade (Ventanilla Unica de Comercio Exterior (VUCE)), which is the country's main trade facilitation tool. A certificate of origin for the products to be exported is required, and the application can be made here. Further required is consulting the customs tariff for the products to be exported, to identify their tariff subheading, which can be done here.

In Colombia, all second-degree processed timber products require authorization for the exportation. This authorization varies according to the product exported, and whether it is CITES-listed or not. It is also necessary to apply for a phytosanitary export certificate with the Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario (ICA). Finally, you need to present your exportation document (DEX) (www.dian.gov.co)  to customs, to pay for export, and to apply for a tax refund certificate (www.mincit.gov.co) (MADS, 2016).