F.L.E.G.T: Letter by letter
This section explores each of the letters in the FLEGT acronym: F for forest; L for law; E for enforcement; G for governance and T for trade. Each page provides background information, examples, story ideas and reporting tips.
In the early 2000s international efforts to tackle illegal logging focused on law enforcement and governance, but they failed to gain traction. The European Union therefore decided to factor trade into its policy response to illegal logging, as a key that could unlock necessary governance reforms.
Previous initiatives had focused on the supply-side only. The EU FLEGT Action Plan was the first initiative to combine demand-side and supply-side measures. It has two main trade-related measures, which create incentives for legal trade and disincentives for illegal trade.
- The EU Timber Regulation, which entered into force in 2013. This makes it illegal for anyone to place illegal timber products on the EU market. It requires importers to adopt due diligence procedures to ensure that products they supply are legal. See EU Timber Regulation.
- Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between the EU and timber-exporting countries. These create systems that issue FLEGT licences to timber verified to have been produced in accordance with national laws. The FLEGT licences automatically fulfil the due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation. See Voluntary Partnership Agreements.
To date, all countries that have agreed a VPA with the EU have chosen to apply their VPA timber legality assurance system to all exports – not just those destined for the EU. Most VPA partner countries have also chosen to include their domestic markets as well. As a result, FLEGT is relevant to many different flows of timber from forests to consumers.
- Timber exported from a VPA partner country to an EU Member State
- Timber from a VPA partner country that is sold on its domestic market
- Timber exported from a VPA partner country to a non-EU market, such as China
- Timber exported from on EU member state to another EU Member State
- Timber exported from a non-VPA partner country to an EU Member State
- Timber from a VPA partner country that is exported to a non-VPA country, processed and re-exported to an EU Member State
- Timber from a non-VPA partner country that is imported into a VPA partner country, processed and the re-exported to an EU Member State
- Timber from a non-VPA partner country that passes through a VPA partner country on its way to the EU market (this is called timber in transit)
Trade in what? The EU Timber Regulation applies only to certain types of timber product (listed here). Each VPA must cover these products but will also cover other products that the partner country, in consultation with national stakeholders, decides to include. The VPA lists the products it covers in an annex.
How much trade? Trade figures are hard to get hold of, hard to understand and hard to verify. As a first step, try the FLEGT independent market monitor’s report FLEGT VPA Partners in EU Timber Trade 2014 to 2016 [PDF] or its summary [PDF]. The EU has tasked the independent market monitor with assessing how the EU and wider international markets respond to FLEGT licensed timber. The International Timber Trade Organization has been contracted to perform this role.
Try to access and study company disclosure documents. In the US, publically listed companies must file a ‘10-K’ document with the Security Exchange Commission, which includes a company’s audited financial statements. These include information about risk, including matters related to the legality of suppliers. American retailer Lumber Liquidators recently came under fire over questions of illegality of its Chinese suppliers. Learn about the filing requirements in the countries you are investigating.
Cultivate journalist contacts at the other end of the supply chain. Timber and furniture leave ports in Ghana and Vietnam and arrive in France and the Netherlands. Covering that story will depend on journalists at both ends. If your editor bankrolls your reporting trip to Marseille or Surabaya, then great. But most editors can’t or won’t. Building relations among journalists from the EU and timber exporting countries is good business for both sides.
Survey company perspectives for balance. While companies are typically wary of government regulation, many companies are in favour of FLEGT. But FLEGT means different things to different kinds of companies. When reporting on trade, be sure to consider both large companies and small ones; importers and exporters; as well as companies involved in logging, transporting and processing wood.