Members of the European Parliament praise the VPA process in Honduras
When Members of the European Parliament visited Honduras in September 2017, they were impressed with the unity of purpose with which diverse stakeholders are working together to address illegal logging, through the Voluntary Partnership Agreement or VPA Honduras is negotiating with the EU.
“I marvel as I hear so many people from so many backgrounds speaking here,” said Lola Sánchez, the head of the EU delegation. “Indigenous communities, the private sector, civil society, all rowing together, in the same direction.”
Sánchez, together with four other Members of the European Parliament and a similar number of advisors and civil servants, had travelled to Danlí, a city 100 km east of the capital Tegucigalpa to meet stakeholder groups engaged in the VPA negotiations. They wanted to see for themselves the progress Honduras has made and the challenges it faces in addressing the prevalent problem of illegal logging.
The visitors met the director of the Honduran Forest Authority, Misael León, as well as representatives of civil society organisations, private sector, indigenous and afro-descendant peoples and small timber producers. These stakeholders jointly presented their reasons for engaging in the VPA process and seeing it through to its signature and implementation.
Honduras and the EU started negotiating the VPA in 2013 to address illegal logging and promote trade in legal timber products. From the outset, the negotiations have gone well beyond trade matters and focused on enhancing forest governance and opening up spaces for participation. Economic matters have been on the table, as have environmental and social issues.
“These types of initiatives are the best way to put an end to illegal timber trade”, said Sánchez, adding that the VPA is also “a brilliant opportunity to empower indigenous communities and women.”
After five rounds of negotiations, Honduras and the EU are close to signing the VPA. In October 2016, Honduras completed field tests of the planned VPA systems for verifying the legality of timber. The tests identified priorities for the effective implementation of the VPA. This step is one of the last before the Agreement can be signed.
However, the VPA is already leading to significant changes in the way Honduras manages its forests. These achievements are remarkable in a country that is still in the aftermath of a political crisis that took place in 2009, and where human rights and environmental defenders face frequent threats and violence.
One such positive impact of the VPA process is the enhanced engagement with stakeholders. “We have made progress towards agreeing on a draft bill on free, prior and informed consent, and all indigenous peoples groups have been consulted,” said Donaldo Allen, from the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (CONPAH).
The delegation of parliamentarians witnessed the valuable progress that the VPA negotiation has enabled. This appears to have flattened a few bumps on the road to the VPA’s eventual ratification: “Rest assured that the European Parliament will grant its support and, when the time to vote comes, a majority will vote in favour” said Sánchez.
At the Fundación Democracia sin Fronteras we will continue to contribute to the VPA process as we see it as a tool to help strengthen forest governance in Honduras.