What does a VPA contain?
A legality assurance system (LAS) is the central part of a VPA between the EU and a timber-exporting country outside the EU.
The LAS is designed to identify, monitor and license legally produced timber, to ensure that only legal timber is exported. Although the VPA is an agreement with the EU, the partner country may choose to set up a system that can be used to verify the legality of timber for other markets as well.
Each country entering into a VPA designs and develops its own system during VPA negotiations, based on its existing control mechanisms and legislative framework. The technical details of the LAS are contained in the final VPA.
An effective system usually includes the verification of forest operations, as well as the control of timber transport and processing as it passes from one owner to the next, all the way from harvesting through to the point of export. A timber LAS usually includes five elements:
- a definition of what constitutes legal timber
- a procedure for verifying control of the supply chain
- tools for verification and the capacity to use them
- licensing by a national authority
- independent audit
Defining legal timber
Each VPA defines ‘legal timber', based on the laws and regulations of the partner country. The national legality definition sets out the legal and regulatory requirements that must be met before a FLEGT licence can be issued. The laws cover the economic, environmental and social aspects of forest management and timber processing. The definition also provides criteria and indicators to be used for checking compliance with those laws.
Controlling the timber supply chain
The LAS ensures that timber entering the supply chain comes from legal sources. It also contains procedures to trace and control timber throughout the supply chain, from the forest where the timber is harvested, to its transport, storage facilities and processing, through to the point of export.
Each partner country government chooses a governmental or non-governmental body to verify that timber or timber products are legal. This verification body ensures that timber is produced and/or processed in a way that meets the requirements of the definition of legal timber, and that its supply chain has been controlled and checked.
The verification body must have adequate resources and procedures to carry out documentary and field verifications.
Issuing FLEGT licences
Each partner country government creates a national licensing authority, to issue FLEGT licences for individual timber consignments that have passed the verification tests. Licences are issued based on evidence from governmental bodies or the internal control systems of private sector operators. In the case of the second option, the LAS describes how to assess, approve and monitor these internal control systems.
Each partner country government appoints an independent auditor to check that all the LAS components have been implemented properly. The auditor must identify non-compliance and system failures and report its findings. A summary of each audit report is made publicly available.
Mandatory implementation bodies
The independent auditor reports to a Joint Implementation Committee, which is established for each VPA. The Committee is made up of representatives from the partner country and the EU. It facilitates and monitors the implementation of the VPA, resolving any conflicts and disputes.
Optional implementation bodies
Independent observation may be used to complement the independent audit. This could be carried out by an organisation as part of a partner country's control system, for example the monitoring of law enforcement by the ministry in charge of forests.
Stakeholders may also be involved, which ensures that the civil society and private sector groups which are involved in the VPA negotiation can also participate in VPA implementation. This has been the case in Ghana, which set up the Timber Validation Council, and in the Republic of the Congo, which has the Multistakeholder Technical Secretariat.