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In early December Belgium presented an initiative calling on the European Commission to “develop an ambitious action plan against deforestation and forest degradation before the end of the current mandate of the European Commission (mid-2019).”

It is the seventh European Union (EU) member state to do so, following a letter sent by Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Italy in November 2018. It is the first time that Belgium has made such a specific call.

“Belgium’s stance means that there is now overwhelming momentum for the Commission to act.  Member states, companies and civil society expect ambitious action on deforestation caused by Europeans’ consumption – and increasingly, they agree this must include regulation,” said Julia Christian, forests campaigner at Fern.

The recommendation is part of a sustainability initiative on chocolate, set up by the Belgium government, chocolate companies and civil society, which aims to provide a fair income to cocoa producers and stop deforestation driven by cocoa production by 2030.

The initiative also calls on the European Commission to propose a due diligence regulation for the cocoa sector, describing it as “particularly ripe for legislation addressing the root causes of and interlinkages between human rights violations and deforestation.”

This follows calls made at the World Cocoa Conference earlier this year, where chocolate companies agreed in a common declaration that there was a need to “strengthen human rights due diligence, including through potential regulatory measures by governments.”

“At the EU level, Belgium has real leverage to halt deforestation and human rights abuses in the cocoa sector. Today’s call for action is an important step in the right direction,” said Beatrice Wedeux, Forest Policy Officer at WWF Belgium.

Belgium is the second biggest exporter of chocolate in the world and produces 600,000 tonnes of chocolate annually. However, in recent years Belgium has not been very involved in discussions on sustainability in the cocoa sector.

“Belgium has one of the world’s most iconic chocolate traditions, but it has been slower to take action on the human rights and environmental abuses contained in our famous truffles. We are delighted to see Belgium now taking the lead, and urge other countries to follow suit,” said Bart van Besien, Policy Officer at Oxfam-Wereldwinkels.

“Deforestation in the cocoa sector is directly linked with the extreme poverty in which cocoa farmers live. At the same time as stopping deforestation, we need to ensure that cocoa farmers make a living income,” said Mr van Besien.

Every year more than 300,000 tonnes of cocoa beans enter via the port of Antwerp. The port of Antwerp is not only important for the Belgian chocolate sector but is also an important port for cocoa beans for industry in Germany, the Netherlands, France and other EU countries.

The Belgian chocolate sector has an annual turnover of almost €5 billion. There are approximately five hundred companies active in the cocoa processing industry and chocolate sector in the country, ranging from large multinationals to Small and Medium Enterprises and artisanal chocolatiers. Every year almost 600,000 tonnes are exported by Belgian chocolate makers to EU countries as well as the US and Japan. This makes Belgium the second largest chocolate exporter in the world.

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