What is a VPA?
A Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is a legally binding trade agreement between the EU and a timber-exporting country outside the EU. A VPA aims to ensure that all timber and timber products destined for the EU market from a partner country comply with the laws of that country.
In addition to promoting trade in legal timber, VPAs address the causes of illegality by improving forest governance. A major strength of VPAs is that they look beyond trade to consider development and environmental issues.
Stakeholders in government, the private sector and civil society develop VPAs through participatory processes. A VPA is therefore a vehicle for addressing the needs of different stakeholders and for including many people who have never before had a voice in decision making.
VPAs are a key component of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan of 2003. Gabon is one of several tropical countries that are negotiating VPAs with the EU. Six countries have ratified VPAs and are implementing the Agreements.
Key elements of a VPA
Key elements of a VPA are described in its main text and annexes. In countries where VPAs have already been signed, these include:
- A timber legality assurance system to verify that timber products are legal and can be issued with FLEGT licences
- Commitments to legal reforms, public disclosure of information and other improvements to forest governance
- A framework for overseeing, monitoring and evaluating implementation of the VPA and its economic, social and environmental impacts.