Reporting on FLEGT and VPAs
What’s the story?
The international effort to stop illegal logging is a story with many angles: crime and justice, trade and the economy, jobs and livelihoods, rights and resources, national development, environmental integrity and more.
The story has many angles because illegal logging causes economic, social and environmental problems on a vast scale and because efforts to stop illegal logging must be multidimensional if they are to succeed.
The EU FLEGT Action Plan aims to stop illegal logging by using a combination of demand and supply-side measures.
On the supply side, the EU and VPA partner countries are working together to promote trade in verified legal ‘FLEGT-licensed’ timber and timber products.
Uniquely among international trade deals, VPA negotiations are transparent and involve multistakeholder participation. VPAs promote not only economic but also social and environmental gains.
VPAs have already led to legal reforms and have improved transparency, accountability, capacity and other aspects of good forest governance.
Who are the players?
Forests have economic, environmental and cultural values at local, national and international scales. Any forest policy will therefore affect many stakeholder groups.
Stakeholders in FLEGT processes in timber-exporting countries and in the EU include private-sector companies, civil society organisations, communities, indigenous peoples, governments and parliamentarians. Stakeholder priorities differ both among and within these broad stakeholder groups.
Within governments of timber-exporting countries, for instance, stakeholders include ministries of forestry, trade, environment and finance as well as customs, law enforcement and the judiciary.
Private-sector stakeholders include holders of forest concessions or titles, processing companies, timber transporting companies, buyers/sellers/importers/exporters of timber and timber products, the informal sector and artisans such as furniture makers.
Civil society stakeholders include forest communities or people who depend on forests, indigenous peoples, labour unions, traditional authorities and nongovernmental organisations that advocate for forest-related issues or human rights.
EU stakeholders include EU member states, the European Parliament, the European Commission, EU-based timber importers and traders and EU nongovernmental organisations.
Key storylines to follow
Trade in FLEGT-licensed timber
To date, no VPA partner country has begun FLEGT licensing. Indonesia and Ghana are, however, both in an advanced stages of VPA implementation. When FLEGT licensing begins, journalists will be able to report on the trade impacts of VPAs, and how effective national timber legality assurance systems are at reducing illegality. The arrival in the EU of the first FLEGT-licensed timber will be the first indication of whether the trade that drives illegal logging can also suppress it. The European Commission has awarded a five-year contract to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) to monitor the extent and market impacts of trade in FLEGT-licensed timber, starting in 2014. The ITTO will analyse how FLEGT licensing affects trade flows, market developments and timber prices.
VPA negotiation and implementation
Countries that have already negotiated a VPA with the EU are now implementing the agreement. This means they are developing their timber legality assurance systems and implementing commitments to make information public and undertake legal and governance reforms. In each VPA partner country a multistakeholder joint implementation committee oversees and reports on progress.
In countries that are negotiating a VPA with the EU, journalists can follow both the national level negotiations (within and among stakeholder groups) and the bilateral negotiations between the country and the EU.
As countries in the EU implement the EU Timber Regulation they may identify and penalise companies that attempt to place illegal timber products on the EU market. Other demand-side activities in the EU FLEGT Action Plan that journalists could report on include government timber procurement policies and efforts to ensure that banks and financial institutions investing in forest sector activities do not promote illegal logging.
The future of FLEGT
Much has changed since the EU FLEGT Action Plan was adopted in 2003. EU imports of tropical timber have fallen since the 2008 economic crisis. Markets that are less demanding than the EU, in terms of the legality of timber, now take a greater share of tropical timber exports. Progress on VPAs has been slower than expected, partly because VPA processes are so thorough. Meanwhile, the timber trade has become a less important driver of illegal logging than conversion of forests to agricultural land. An independent evaluation of the Action Plan is underway. The evaluators will make recommendations for future EU efforts to address illegal logging in the light of progress to date and emerging issues.
The EU FLEGT Action Plan cannot tackle illegal logging alone. However, other major markets for tropical timber have adopted similar initiatives. These include the US Lacey Act amendment and the Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act. China, the world’s largest importer of tropical timber and the world’s largest market for illegal wood, is developing a legality assurance system and there are efforts to link the Chinese system to FLEGT.
Sources of more information for journalists
Transparency and public information are at the heart of FLEGT and VPA processes. Journalists should therefore have ready access to much official information, including:
- Annual reports of VPA joint implementation committees and independent auditors
- The full text of VPAs and their annexes
- Press conferences and documents summarising VPA negotiations
- Information that VPA partner countries commit to making public, such as legal documents and information on forest allocation, production, fees, taxes, law enforcement and penalties
To find out more about these sources of information or to learn about FLEGT in more detail, see the EU FLEGT Facility:
- Directory of experts
- Country-specific media pages
- Media training module (coming soon)
- Video footage of the 2015 FLEGT Week ‘crash course on FLEGT’
- VPA Unpacked, a resource that explains all aspects of VPAs
These resources provide links to additional sources of information in the EU and in countries negotiating or implementing VPAs with the EU, such as:
- EU institutions and structures, such as the European Commission, EU delegations and competent authorities in countries in the EU
- National VPA structures and stakeholders, such as negotiating committees and implementation committees, civil society platforms, associations of private-sector stakeholders, independent observers, and national VPA-related websites
- EU and international organisations that work on aspects of FLEGT, including civil society organisations, support organisations, donors and the independent market monitor