The European Union (EU) is delaying the classification of countries under its anti-deforestation regulation following claims made by several governments in Asia, Africa and Latin America that the rules would be burdensome, unfair and put off investors, three EU officials told the Financial Times.

Brussels would hold off classifying countries into low, standard or high risk – a system which had been due to be introduced by December under its EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR). In its place, every country would be designated as standard risk to give them more time to adapt to the regulation, the officials said.

“We will simply not classify which means everywhere will be medium risk – we need more time to get the system in place,” one official was quoted as saying.

“We have had a lot of complaints from partners. [The delay] means no country will have an advantage over another.”

The EUDR applies to palm oil, soyabeans, cattle, wood, cocoa, coffee and rubber, with firms wanting to sell these commodities or their products in the EU having to prove that they do not come from land where forest has been destroyed or degraded since 31 December 2020.

However, several developing nations had accused the EU of forcing its green standards on to others, the 8 March report said.

Major palm oil producing countries including Indonesia and Malaysia had raised “multiple concerns” over the rules in a letter to the European Commission in September, the FT wrote.

“The legislation disregards local circumstances and capabilities, national legislation and certification mechanisms of developing producer countries, [as well as] their efforts to fight deforestation and multilateral commitments, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities,” the letter said.

Companies had said they could pull out of “high-risk” areas as the burden of proving their products did not come from deforested land was too high, while several had started to favour supply deals with bigger producers that could afford to deploy sophisticated geolocation technology, the FT wrote.

A crucial part of Brussels’ plans to reach net zero emissions in the bloc by 2050, the EUDR requires that importers provide geolocation data to prove their goods have not been sourced from areas affected by deforestation. It was originally conceived as operating through a traffic light system that would classify countries as having a high, medium or low risk of deforestation.

The system will use metrics such as the rate of land degradation and the expansion of agricultural activity as well as evidence from indigenous communities and NGOs. The level of checks on imports will depend on the area of origin’s classification, with EU customs authorities expected to carry out checks on 3% of goods from medium-risk nations and 9% from high-risk countries.

Officials also confirmed that Brussels would take a regional rather than a national approach, meaning, for example, that the plains of southern Brazil would eventually be classified as lower risk than the Amazon region, where vast tracts of rainforest had been cleared, the report said.

One EU official said slowing down the classification process would not involve any legislative changes but was a “signal that we’re not planning to rush it”.

Developing countries were concerned that the law was passed in June last year without clear guidance on how to comply, the report said.

Malaysia’s trade minister Zafrul Aziz was quoted as saying his country and others needed time and assistance to put in place control systems.

“You need time because it is costly to meet those standards, all those transparency or disclosure requirements,” he told the FT, adding that it would be “no issue” for big companies but many “smallholders” would struggle to comply. He added that Kuala Lumpur was collaborating with Brussels on how to implement the law.

The commission had declined to comment, the FT said.