Fighting against illegal timber exports: EU and the Republic of Congo sign agreement

Brussels, 17 May 2010 – News item based on memorandum of the European Commission: EU and the Republic of Congo have signed a partnership agreement to battle illegal logging and the trade in illegal lumber.

The FLEGT agreements are intended to fight illegal logging and trade in wood. Illegal logging has a devastating impact on some of the world’s most valuable remaining forests and on the people that live in them and rely on the resources they provide. Its environmental effects include deforestation, the loss of biodiversity and the emission of greenhouse gases. Illegal logging also promotes corruption, undermines the rule of law and good governance, and in some places has financed armed conflict.

The World Bank has estimated that some of the world’s poorest countries lose over USD 15 billion per year as a result of illegal logging – money that should be spent on improving their lives.

What is legal timber?

Fundamental to any action to combat illegal logging is the ability to differential between legal and illegal timber. Definitions of legally-produced timber should incorporate laws that address the three pillars of sustainability, those aimed at economic, environmental and social objectives.  These can differ from country to country.

What is EU FLEGT?

FLEGT stands for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade. In 2003 the European Commission published the FLEGT Action Plan, setting out a range of measures available to the European Union and its Member States to tackle illegal logging in the world’s forests and the trade in associated timber products.

Why have an EU FLEGT Action Plan?

The aim of this plan is not simply to reduce illegal deforestation, but to attempt to tackle poverty by supporting good governance in countries selling wood to the EU, since European demand for wood was seen as a significant driver of illegality.  The Action Plan was the EU’s response to its political commitments made as part of the G8 Programme on Forests and a series of Ministerial Conferences on Forest Law, Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) facilitated by the World Bank.

What kind of measures does the Action Plan cover?

The FLEGT Action Plan complements the natural resources management agenda and the governance agenda, two key issues for development and for the EU.  The Plan is to develop markets in Europe for legal products, thereby encouraging business and consumers to pay the real cost of producing legal wood, rather than searching only for the cheapest price. The Action Plan foresees a wide range of measures :

i) EU trade policies:

–       Developing partnerships with countries that want to tackle illegality in their forestry sectors and wish to demonstrate that the wood products they export to the EU are legal. These partnerships take the form of agreements called FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA). They are bilateral agreements between the EU and tropical wood exporting countries, and are a joint commitment to improve forest governance and guarantee that the wood imported into the EU is from legal sources

–       Developing legislation to encourage importers to take responsibility for the provenance of the wood they buy

ii) Influencing Member State buyers:

–       Encouraging European governments to purchase legal and sustainable paper, construction timber, office furniture and other forest products

–       Making companies in the EU aware of their responsibility to buy legal and sustainable wood, and helping them develop tools to do it easily.

iii) Support for timber-producing countries (eg promoting public procurement policies; support for private sector initiatives; safeguards for financing and investment; addressing the problem of conflict timber.)

How do FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements work?

A VPA is a WTO-compatible agreement between a producer country and the EU to work together to stop illegal logging. Although voluntary, these agreements are legally binding on the two parties.

Once a country has entered into an agreement, it will have an agreed time period to implement the necessary systems to issue licences for its timber, after which time only licensed timber from that country will be accepted at the EU border.

Export licensing will be based on national standards for forest management, rooted in national laws and regulations of individual partner countries. These cover environmental protection, logging rules, payments of fees, timber trade and transport regulation and property rights, particularly for those communities who depend on forests for their livelihoods.

The goals of a VPA:

–       Policy and legal reform

–       Governance and transparency

–       Capacity building

–       Improved control, and verification of legal compliance

VPAs also incorporate a national legality assurance system that :

–       Defines what constitutes legal timber

–       Verifies compliance with this definition

–       Traces product from forest to export

–       Licences exports, to provide assurance to markets

Countries with VPAS

Ghana, Republic of Congo.  The following countries are in the process of negotiating a VPA :  Cameroon, Malaysia, Indonesia, Liberia, Central African Republic.

FLEGT projects

Activities to implement the FLEGT Action Plan are financed through:

–       The European Development Fund

–       The EU environment and natural resources programme

–       European Forest Initiative FLEGT facility

For more information about the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade initiative, please visit their website by clicking here.

Citation:  Memorandum of the European Commission MEMO/10/194.


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