Responding to multiple problems affecting governance of natural resource access and trade, governments implement formalization processes, often driven by the interests of development agencies. In so doing, they interact with the contemporary political, social, and environmental contexts in which resources are extracted, produced, and traded. They also contend with histories of ownership, access rights, market configurations, and practices attached to resources and the lands in which they are located. As development policy, formalization frequently materializes as top-down restructuring based on current social and environmental norms. However, its adoption is often unsuccessful and entails risks including leakage, barriers to small or poor actors, elite capture, and negative effects on women or marginalized groups. The insights herein are informative to current processes of formalization associated with the European Union (EU) timber trade regime and other resource governance efforts. At the minimum, incorporation of adaptive approaches and user-accountable monitoring in such processes are recommended.