Certification and FLEGT – complementary potential

FSC Chief Advocacy Officer John Hontelez and PEFC Chief Executive Ben Gunneberg say certification schemes and the FLEGT initiative share goals and can be mutually beneficial

ETTF: What is your organisation’s perspective on the relation between FLEGT and certification? 

John Hontelez: FSC sees FLEGT’s aims and activities as complementary to its own. FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) are unique in the way they promote forest policy reform and establishment of effective enforcement institutions, and these are both preconditions for sustainable forest management. FSC can then help VPA acceptance and realisation. Four of the six countries with ratified agreements have included the possibility of recognising private forest certification as compliant with their FLEGT timber legality assurance system. We’re now asking for the option to recognise certification schemes in all further VPAs at forest management and chain of custody levels.

Ben Gunneberg: PEFC sees FLEGT as very constructive in drawing attention to challenges and opportunities in forest governance and ensuring underlying issues giving rise to illegal logging and trade, such as weak governance and corruption, are addressed at the highest levels. Also, while forest certification delivers locally developed internationally endorsed sustainability verification beyond the scope of FLEGT, it is a voluntary mechanism and applies only to certified forest areas and supply chains. FLEGT VPAs and licensing offer the added value of targeting forest legality issues of producer countries as a whole.

ETTF: Does FLEGT’s focus on timber sector transparency and stakeholder engagement add something new?

JH: FLEGT’s approach, with explicit roles for stakeholders in preparatory and implementing phases, is particularly valuable. It’s not very different from FSC practices for formulating national standards and stakeholder engagement requirements for forest certificate holders and certification bodies. But the FLEGT VPA process additionally includes forest legislation and is not limited to those choosing to use certification schemes.

BG: In strengthening multi-stakeholder dialogue FLEGT VPAs have been helpful for PEFC. Stakeholders subsequently have more capacity to build consensus in developing national forest management standards. Continuing discussions from agreeing definitions of legality, to building consensus around requirements for sustainable forest management, is also a natural trajectory.

ETTF: How will FLEGT licensing work with certification in the market?

BG: One issue [we have] is the fact that FLEGT licensing, through its timber legality assurance systems, will be given green lane status in the EU Timber Regulation. Yet tried and tested forest certification is referred to [only] as a due diligence tool to mitigate risk of importing illegal timber into the EU. This should be quickly rectified. But we don't see competition between FLEGT licences and forest certification. FLEGT-licensed timber on the EU market could contribute towards mainstreaming legal forest products trade and enhancing the forest products industry’s reputation. At the same time, certification will continue to grow as it goes beyond legal requirements in the forest and a PEFC label communicates sustainable origin of products to consumers. Demand is also embedded in private and public procurement policies and consumer expectations for sustainable forest products. And we see further potential synergies between the two. Where VPAs come first, they can assist countries in promoting multistakeholder participation, transparency and accountability in national certification standards development and revision. PEFC also now requires that the legality definition agreed through a VPA is reflected in these standards. Likewise, where national certification standards develop first, they can help inform more realistic and practical VPA timber legality assurance systems.

JH: FLEGT enforcement in tropical exporting countries makes certification easier for foresters, given that compliance with local laws lays the foundation for sustainable forest management and means illegal logging will no longer undermine commercial viability of legal practices. FSC certification then has the value of being an entry point into the already mature certified timber market, with labeling and possibilities for price premiums. We’re also promoting that FLEGT VPAs include the possibility of recognising credible third-party verified forest certification and chain-ofcustody. This can reduce the burden on public authorities and showcase the commercial viability of law-respecting forest management practices and their social and economic advantages.

ETTF: How do you see the future of certification and the FLEGT initiative together?

BG: Ultimately we need to recognize that customers and procurement officials increasingly require evidence of sustainability and not just legality. But this means that all processes taking us towards a world in which people manage forests sustainably will be a move in the right direction and, where certification proves particularly challenging, verification of timber legality under a VPAtimber legality assurance system will offer a first step to improving forest management.

JH: FSC alone can’t end illegal logging as it depends on voluntary engagement of the forestry industry. That’s why we need effective law enforcement and FLEGT can help.