What is the EU FLEGT Action Plan?

The EU published the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan in 2003. The Action Plan sets out a range of measures available to the EU and its member states to tackle illegal logging in the world's forests.

Why was the Action Plan introduced?

Illegal logging has a devastating impact on some of the world's most valuable remaining forests, and on the people who live in them and rely on the resources that forests provide.

The EU is one of the largest consumers of timber products in the world. EU companies and governments that buy timber and timber products from suppliers in Africa, Asia or South America have a significant impact on illegal logging. If they unwittingly buy illegal timber, they create profitable markets for illegal loggers and undermine efforts to enforce forest law in timber-exporting countries.

If buyers purchase timber from producers that comply with national laws, pay for the timber they fell and act responsibly towards the local population and the environment, this will help reduce illegal logging.

What does the Action Plan contain?

The EU FLEGT Action Plan sets out seven measures that together prevent the importation of illegal timber into the EU, improve the supply of legal timber and increase demand for timber from responsibly managed forests.

1. Supporting timber-producing countries

The EU provides financial and technical support to countries that want to address illegal logging. This support helps countries to build timber legality assurance systems, promote transparency, build the capacity of governments, civil society and businesses, and reform policies. EU support promotes fair, equitable solutions to illegal logging that do not harm people living in poverty.

For more information about support for timber-producing countries, visit:

  • An interactive map giving details of many EU and Member State-funded projects 
  • The website of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations programme to support timber-producing countries 
  • The website of the European Commission 

2. Promoting trade in legal timber

An important element of the trade-related measures set out in the 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. Co-operation 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 expansion of the global FLEGT initiative. The Action Plan includes legislation to control imports of illegally harvested timber into the EU: The EU Timber Regulation has been in place since 2013.

Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between the EU and timber-producing countries also promote trade in legal timber products and help to close the EU market to illegal products. A VPA improves forest governance and, ultimately, guarantees that timber and timber products exported to the EU are legal. Each VPA defines 'legal timber' according to the laws and regulations of the timber-producing country. Negotiating the Agreement provides an opportunity for private sector and civil society to get involved in developing national legality standards. Each VPA sets out a strong timber legality assurance system that can verify that a consignment of timber is legal and merits the award of a 'FLEGT licence'. FLEGT-licensed timber will be free to enter the EU market as it will automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation. A VPA can help a timber-producing country achieve its development objectives by securing employment, increasing government revenues, strengthening the rule of law and safeguarding the rights of forest peoples.

For more information about promoting trade in legal timber visit:

For more information about VPAs visit:

  • The EU FLEGT Facility website
  • The website of the European Commission 

3. Promoting environmentally and socially beneficial public procurement policies

Public infrastructure projects funded by EU Member States are among the largest European consumers of timber. Ensuring that these projects only use legal timber is a key element of FLEGT. Public procurement legislation takes environmental considerations into account in purchasing decisions. The European Commission Handbook on Green Procurement explains how public authorities can ensure that procurement helps achieve local, regional, national and international sustainability goals.

For more information on green public procurement policies visit:

  • The website of the European Commission

4. Supporting private-sector initiatives

The European Commission provides technical and financial assistance to help the private sector ensure that supply chains are free of illegalities. FLEGT licensing makes this easier. A FLEGT licence guarantees that timber and timber products are legal and that they come from a country where forest laws have been agreed with stakeholders. A FLEGT licence also ensures that the issuing country has a robust system in place, verifiable by independent audit, to stop illegal timber entering the supply chain.

For more information on private-sector initiatives visit:

  • The website of the International Tropical Timber Organization, the organisation supervising independent market monitoring of the development of the international market for FLEGT-licensed timber
  • An interactive map giving details of many EU and Member State-funded projects

5. Financing and investment safeguards

Large-scale investments in land, agriculture and infrastructure in timber-producing countries can encourage illegal logging if they drive deforestation. FLEGT encourages investors, including export credit agencies, banks and financial institutions, to use strong due-diligence procedures to limit the social and environmental effects of investments in the forest sector. The EU FLEGT Action Plan also encourages investors, including export credit agencies, to be cautious when investing in areas where land ownership is disputed or where there are contradictions between official and traditional land ownership rights.

6. Using existing or new legislation

The EU Timber Regulation came into effect in all countries in the EU on 3 March 2013. The Regulation prohibits the placing of illegally harvested timber on the European market, and covers both imported and domestically produced timber and timber products. The Regulation sets out procedures to minimise the risk of illegal wood entering the EU market. Businesses placing a timber product on the EU market must make every effort to ensure that it is legal. These efforts are called 'due diligence.' Businesses selling or buying timber already on the market have to keep records that adequately trace the origin of the wood they buy or sell. Timber or timber products that carry a valid FLEGT licence or Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit are automatically considered to comply with the requirements of the Regulation.

For more information on the EU Timber Regulation visit:

  • The website of the European Commission

For more information on money laundering and FLEGT see:

  • report by the non-governmental organisation Fern

7. Addressing the problem of conflict timber

Conflict has often been fuelled by the profits that armed groups make by selling illegally or legally harvested timber. When the EU FLEGT Action Plan was developed in the early 2000s, timber stolen by Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia was being used to fund rebels fighting the government in neighbouring Sierra Leone. The conflict threatened to destabilise the region. At that time there was no agreed international definition of conflict timber or any plan to solve the problem. FLEGT includes actions to agree on an international definition of conflict timber and to ensure EU development aid programmes take account of the role of forests in conflicts.

For more information on conflict timber and FLEGT see:

  • Background information for a session on FLEGT and conflict timber, organised as part of FLEGT Week 2015 (an EU initiative to convene actors with an interest in FLEGT) 
  • The outcomes of the FLEGT Week 2015 session on conflict timber

Previous initiatives

EU FLEGT builds on previous regional forest law enforcement and governance (FLEG) initiatives:

  • FLEG in Asia and the Pacific
  • the Africa Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (AFLEG) Ministerial Conference
  • the Europe and North Asia Ministerial Conference on Forest Law Enforcement and Governance.

Read more about previous initiatives at the World Bank website.

 

European Union institutions and FLEGT

The EU published the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan in 2003.

European Commission

The European Commission is mandated by the Council of the EU to:

  • negotiate FLEGT VPAs
  • develop proposals for legislation to remove illegal timber from the European market
  • take forward other initiatives to meet the objectives set out in the FLEGT Action Plan.

Work under the Action Plan is led jointly by the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid and the Directorate-General for the Environment. The European Commission updates the Council and Parliament on the FLEGT Action Plan.

European Parliament

The European Parliament is the legislative body of the EU. Its directly elected members hold the European Commission to account for progress towards achieving the aims of the FLEGT Action Plan.

The European Parliament has a role in the ratification of a VPA.

Council of the EU

The Council of the EU is the main decision-making body of the EU. Ministers from countries in the EU meet within the Council. Depending on the issue on the agenda, each country is represented by the minister responsible for that subject (e.g. foreign affairs, finance, social affairs, transport, agriculture). FLEGT issues are discussed by the Agriculture and Fisheries Council.

The Council of the EU has a role in the ratification of a VPA.

Ad Hoc Working Group on FLEGT

The European Commission and countries in the EU coordinate their activities on global forestry issues through an Ad Hoc Working Group on FLEGT, coordinated by the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid.

More information

Related links

Download documents

  • EU FLEGT Action Plan (EN FR)
  • Regulation for the FLEGT licensing scheme (EN FR)
  • What is FLEGT? (CH EN FR NL TH)
  • Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade – the European Union approach (EN ES FR IND)