Timber chiefs have warned that imports of the material from Russia or Belarus could now be deemed illegal in the UK.

The Timber Trade Federation (TTF) told its members that purchases from suppliers in the ostracised nations could fall foul of regulations initially coming into force nine years ago in part to tackle illegal logging abroad.

Guidance published by the government last year to clarify the Timber and Timber Products (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2013 stated that due diligence by purchasers must include “consideration of the prevalence of armed conflict”.

Operators should consider whether “any aspect of the timber supply chain is located in conflict-affected and high-risk areas”, adds the note from the Office for Product Safety and Standards.

TTF head of technical and trade policy Nick Boulton said the implications were clear.

“Under UK timber regulations, it is the legal duty of importers to be able to prove that there is ‘negligible risk’ that the timber was sourced illegally,” he said.

“Given the current invasion of Ukraine, it would be extremely difficult for anyone now sourcing timber or timber-derived products from either Russia or Belarus to carry out a full risk assessment of illegality or to mitigate the non-negligible risk.”

The TTF earlier this month urged its members – who represent 85 percent of the £10bn UK timber industry – to enforce their own trade ban on Russian timber.

In a blog post, chief executive David Hopkins noted forest certification endorsement body PEFC’s decision to brand wood originating from Russia and Belarus as “conflict timber”, as well as broader restrictions announced by the UK government.

“We are now advising all members of TTF to cease trading with Russia and Belarus,” wrote Hopkins.

He added that sanctions imposed by the UK and other parts of Europe would cause “huge disruption to timber supplies” and could lead to “shortages in some product areas”.

The federation has since moved to clarify when material, which was already in the process of export to the UK, should be classed as “pre-conflict timber” and allowed to enter the domestic supply chain.

This relies on checking the dates of various stages of a consignment of wood’s passage through customs and certification.

Boulton said “difficulties” had emerged on the ground with regards to timber that had been paid for before Russia invaded Ukraine.

“It will take a few months for this timber to progress through the supply chain,” he said. “As an example, Siberian larch cladding will often have been in the country for a number of months before it finds its way onto the exterior of a house.”

He pointed out that the aim of the sanction was to end trading relationships rather than to punish material itself.

“This is why we are advising our members to follow the PEFC and Forest Stewardship Council guidelines with regard to pre-conflict timber, to help create a distinction of what goods are still valid for trade.”

The Construction Leadership Council warned this month that contractors were facing “serious difficulties” after material prices soared by up to a fifth in the first couple of months of this year.

Meanwhile, Mace has warned that tender prices could rise following the invasion of Ukraine.

A UK government spokesperson said: “We, with our allies and partners, are imposing the most punishing sanctions on Russia following its unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine. We will continue to take any action necessary to send a very clear message that nothing is off the table.”

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