EU Deforestation Laws and the Uncertain Future of Coffee Trade

The European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) has set the stage for a brewing storm in the coffee industry. This legislation, slated to be enforced by the end of 2024, aims to combat deforestation across various sectors, including coffee. While the intention to protect our environment is noble, the practical implications of this regulation have left coffee-producing countries, traders, and stakeholders in a state of unease and concern.

The EUDR and the Backlash

The EUDR, passed in December 2022, is a replacement for the EU Timber Regulation. It specifically targets industries such as coffee, cacao, beef, rubber, soy, and palm oil. Under this regulation, all traders are required to prove that their products have no ties to deforestation or face hefty fines amounting to 4% of their turnover.

Despite the admirable goal of ending deforestation, the EUDR has ignited discontent among traders and stakeholders in coffee-producing countries. Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, has taken a vocal stand against the legislation, characterizing it as “regulatory imperialism.” The Indonesian chief economic minister, Airlangga Hartarto, has raised concerns about the fairness of this legislation, particularly regarding its impact on international trade.

Turmoil Within and Concerns About Implementation

Even within the European Union, the EUDR has caused turmoil. The sudden departure of Frans Timmerman, one of the architects of the bill, suggests that there may be internal disagreements about its execution.

While the legislation’s aim to combat deforestation is widely supported, concerns are primarily focused on its implementation. The European Commission plans to establish a three-tier benchmarking system, categorizing commodity-producing countries and regions as low, standard, or high risk. This system aims to focus checks on high-risk countries and simplify due diligence for low-risk countries. However, the potential consequences of these labels on affected countries’ reputations are concerning. Being labeled as “high-risk” could discourage importers from buying coffee from these countries, impacting their economies significantly.

Furthermore, the benchmarking system might affect who coffee producers and exporters can sell to. Meeting the stringent requirements of the legislation, such as providing aerial or satellite photography for each parcel of land used for coffee production, can be expensive and complicated. Small farmers, in particular, might find it impossible to bear the cost of certification and mapping.

The Challenges of Implementation

The legislation also fails to distinguish between smallholders and larger estates adequately. While it mentions that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) won’t need to fulfill all requirements, the specific criteria for SMEs remain unclear. This uncertainty complicates the effective implementation of the legislation.

The coffee supply chain is uniquely complex, with many intermediaries involved, making traceability a persistent issue. The EU faces a tight timeline to develop a system capable of processing imagery effectively while confidently identifying instances of deforestation.

Relevance of Coffee in the Legislation

Some argue that coffee might not be the most pertinent commodity for this legislation. In regions like Brazil, where coffee has been grown for over a century, the main threat to the environment is not coffee production but cattle farming. This raises questions about whether the EU is targeting the right areas of the agricultural network to combat deforestation effectively.


While the European Union’s intention to combat deforestation is commendable, the implementation of the EUDR has raised legitimate concerns within the coffee industry. Stakeholders are worried about the potential impact on international trade, the complexities of implementing the legislation, and its relevance to the coffee industry. Efforts are needed to address these concerns comprehensively before the bill takes effect in 2024. Balancing environmental conservation with the interests of coffee-producing countries and stakeholders remains a delicate task that requires careful consideration and cooperation.