Seven pillars of FLEGT
This section explains the EU FLEGT Action Plan’s seven broad elements, which are listed below. It describes progress and provides case studies and reporting tips. Among the topics covered are the EU Timber Regulation and Voluntary Partnership Agreements between the EU and timber exporting countries outside the EU.
Promoting trade in legal timber products
An important element of the trade-related measures set out in the EU FLEGT Action Plan is to engage major timber consumers and explore ways of working together towards a comprehensive multilateral framework to restrict illegally harvested timber from entering their markets.
Cooperation between the EU, the United States and Japan is key as they account for a large part of the world market for timber and timber products. The EU is also making efforts to engage other major markets for timber and timber products, particularly China, in the global FLEGT initiative.
The EU FLEGT Action Plan further promotes trade in legal timber products through two key mechanisms: the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with timber exporting countries. Learn more about the EUTR here. The remainder of this section of the module focuses on VPAs.
Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs)
VPAs are bilateral trade agreements between the European Union and a timber exporting country. They aim to ensure that the partner country only exports timber products that have been legally harvested, transported, processed and traded. VPAs also address the causes of illegality head-on by improving forest governance, laws and law enforcement.
A key component of every VPA is a timber legality assurance system with the following five elements:
- A definition of legal timber, based on national laws and regulations
- Procedures for tracking timber through the supply chain
- Mechanisms for verifying that timber conforms to the legality definition and supply chain controls
- Independent audits
- FLEGT licensing of verified legal timber products
VPA negotiations are cooperative, not combative. Both parties share the goal of eliminating illegal logging. The process of negotiating and implementing a VPA takes a long time because timber legality assurance systems must be both robust and credible. This requires a broad consensus among stakeholders that can take years to achieve. The process involves representatives of civil society and the private sector, not just state officials. Finding common ground among foresters, logging companies, environmental NGOs and indigenous forest dwellers is no easy matter. This requires compromise from all sides.
Indonesia-EU VPA signature, 2013
Credit: EU FLEGT Facility
Progress to date
Six countries have ratified VPAs with the EU and are implementing the agreements: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia, and Republic of the Congo. In 2016, Indonesia became the first of these countries to begin issuing FLEGT licences to exports of verified legal timber products. Two more countries — Honduras and Vietnam — have completed negotiations with the EU and are preparing to ratify their VPAs. Seven more countries are negotiating VPAs with the EU: Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guyana, Laos, Malaysia, and Thailand.
VPAs have exceeded the EU’s original ambition by covering all timber exports, not just those to the EU, and most VPAs cover the partner country’s domestic market as well.
All VPA processes have already had positive impacts on forest governance (see Governance). The level of stakeholder participation in VPA processes is unprecedented. VPA processes have strengthened the capacity of government, private sector and civil society stakeholders to work together to address illegality. Each VPA also includes commitments by the partner country and EU to publish information stakeholders think should be in the public domain.
- In Liberia, the VPA has helped communities secure a share of the fees that logging companies pay to the government. See the EU FLEGT Facility’s Background on the Liberia-EU VPA.
- In Indonesia, the VPA empowered civil society groups to act as forest watchdogs by making them an integral part of the timber legality assurance system. See the EU FLEGT Facility’s Background on the Indonesia-EU VPA.
- In Honduras, the VPA has enabled indigenous peoples to participate in forest-sector policymaking like never before. See the EU FLEGT Facility’s Background on the Honduras-EU VPA.
Understand the national context: The EU FLEGT Facility has background information on the forest sector of each VPA partner country as well as a media room with pages for each VPA partner country. Other sources of country-specific information include: illegal-logging.info and logging-off.info.
Understand the process: VPA Unpacked is an online resource that explains VPA processes, structures, stakeholders and outcomes. It includes country-specific information and links to more information.
Know your VPA. Each VPA is different. Details of these will vary in each country, and journalists will need to familiarise themselves with these measures for the countries they are covering. VPAs are not secret. The full text and annexes of each agreement are publicly available in multiple languages. In addition, for VPAs that are still under negotiation, the EU and partner country publish summaries of negotiation sessions. For VPAs that are being implemented, the joint implementation committee publishes meeting summaries. The EU produces a briefing note once each VPA is signed. For some VPAs, civil society counter-briefs are also available. All of these documents are available on the country pages of the EU FLEGT Facility.
Sources of stories: Some sources of stories are:
- Public reports of the independent auditors that are an integral part of each VPA timber legality assurance system
- Independent forest monitors
- Dedicated websites VPA partner countries have set up to share information and updates with stakeholders
- Reports by national and EU-based civil society organisations
Questions to consider:
- Why do some countries pursue a VPA and other don’t? What process do countries use to make this decision?
- What products does a VPA cover? All VPAs agreed to date use an annex to list the range of products the VPA covers.
- What more information can I access? VPAs include commitments to public disclosure of information about a country’s forest sector.
- How representative are/were involved VPA negotiations?
- What do different stakeholder groups think of the VPA?
- What does VPA implementation involve?
- How does the timber legality assurance system track timber from tree to export?
- What is the representation of ethnic minority communities in the FLEGT VPA process?
- What are the costs and benefits of a VPA?