Laos and EU hold first face-to-face VPA negotiations
The European Union and Laos held their first negotiations towards a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to improve forest governance, address illegal logging and promote trade in legal timber products, when they met on 24-28 April in Vientiane.
Work to develop the VPA had already begun but this was the first time negotiators have met face-to-face.
Under a VPA, Laos would develop a system to verify and certify the legality of timber products it exports to the EU, and make other commitments on transparency and independent monitoring.
The definition of legality, design of the timber legality assurance system and other VPA commitments will be determined through national deliberations among stakeholders from the government, private sector and civil society.
“Laos chose to enter the VPA process to improve law enforcement, capacity and the overall governance regime in the forest sector,” said Dr Phouangparisak Pravongviengkham, Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, who leads the Lao VPA negotiation team.
“The VPA will also help Laos to enhance its industry’s capacity for value-added wood processing and increase access to regional and EU timber markets, as well as to improve local livelihoods through better management of forests.”
The EU and Laos recognise that the process of negotiating and implementing the VPA will be a long-term undertaking for both parties.
The main focus of this week’s negotiations was on discussion around the future product scope of the Agreement and on defining legality for timber from various sources. Following the negotiations in Vientiane, work will continue on defining legality and on developing supply chain controls and procedures for verifying that timber is legal.
VPAs are a key component of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, which aims to combat illegal logging and ensure forests contribute to sustainable development and efforts to address climate change.
“By starting FLEGT VPA negotiations with the EU, Laos demonstrates its strong commitment to sustainable forest management and joins a coalition of countries that are fighting illegal logging and improving forest governance,” said Ambassador Leo Faber, Head of the EU Delegation to Laos.
“Fifteen countries are now negotiating or implementing VPAs with the EU and momentum is building. Together, the EU and our partners, are harnessing the power of trade to address the social, economic and environmental problems illegal logging causes.”
The VPA process has created an unprecedented opportunity for Lao civil society organisations to engage in dialogue on policies that affect forest governance. Full participation of these groups and private sector, as mandated by the Prime Minister Decision on FLEGT VPA in 2015, will be critical to the success of the VPA negotiations. By fostering deliberation and building consensus among stakeholders, the process can ensure national ownership and effective implementation of the VPA.