VPA global horizons grow

FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements offer due diligence-free access to the EU market to timber from supplier countries which introduce comprehensive legality assurance systems and forest governance reforms. The EU’s VPA partners now span the globe

Fifteen tropical countries are now negotiating or implementing FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with the EU, with the goal of supplying EU Member States with verified legal FLEGT-licensed timber products. Together their forests cover an area the size of the EU and they account for 80% of its tropical timber imports.

VPAs – the background

VPAs developed out of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, launched in 2003 in response to concerns over the environmental, social and economic impacts of illegal timber trading worldwide. A VPA is a legally binding trade agreement between the EU and an external timber exporting country, and aims to ensure that timber and timber products destined for the EU market from that partner country comply with its relevant laws.

VPA partner countries establish a timber legality assurance system and introduce a range of other measures set out in the Agreement, working with EU support and guidance and broad stakeholder participation. When these are fully implemented, the supplier country will be able to issue FLEGT licences for verified legal timber and products.

FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits EU operators from placing illegally harvested timber and timber goods on the EU market. As a result, operators (companies which first place timber on the EU market) don't have to undertake further EUTR due diligence.

As well as promoting trade in legal timber, VPAs are designed to improve transparency, accountability, participation and other aspects of good forest governance. The first country to sign a VPA was Ghana, which is now implementing its commitments ahead of FLEGT licensing.

Five others have also ratified VPAs and are at various stages of implementation: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Liberia, the Republic of the Congo, and, of course, Indonesia, which begins FLEGT licensing on 15 November 2016. Countries currently negotiating VPAs are Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guyana, Honduras, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. And others have held discussions on the initiative.

Products covered by VPAs

The product scope of each VPA is listed in an annex. The minimum requirements are that it covers logs, sawn wood, veneers, plywood and railway sleepers. To date, however, all VPA partner countries have included additional products to cover all their exports to the EU. For instance, Indonesia’s VPA and FLEGT licensing scheme includes furniture, fuel wood, wooden tools, packing material, builders' joinery and wood carpentry, pulp, paper and paper products, kitchen and tableware.

Latest VPA news

Latest developments in VPA implementation and negotiation are reported at www.flegt.org/news. Among the news is Cameroon’s action to combat illegal logging. In the first quarter of 2016, four Cameroonian logging companies had their licences suspended, while 35 were issued with warning notices, and fines imposed for illegal timber activity totalled €82.6 million.

An independent study is also reported to have found that both Ghana and Indonesia have greatly improved forest governance and achieved measurable declines in illegal logging through implementing their VPAs. The study, by Christine Overdevest and Jonathan Zeitlin of the Universities of Florida and Amsterdam, also highlighted that VPA implementation had led to “substantially increased participation by civil society and other stakeholders in forest governance, greater transparency and accountability of forestry administration and heightened recognition of community rights”.

Meanwhile, the June meeting of the Republic of the Congo-EU VPA Joint Implementation Committee reported "significant progress" in the country’s timber legality assurance system and that its supporting computer software was nearly ready for national deployment.