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8th annual meeting of FLEGT projects shows shared commitment to combatting illegal logging

11 October 2013, Brussels. The EU remains fully committed to leading global efforts to fight illegal logging through the implementation of the FLEGT Action Plan. This was the message that Natalie Pauwels delivered in a statement on behalf of EU Commissioner Janez Potočnik to the FLEGT 8th Annual Coordination Meeting in Brussels. 

‘Negotiating VPAs is a long and complex process,' said Pauwels of the Commisioner's cabinet. ‘There are ways of improving the procedure, but it is important to get it right, not just to achieve "paper tigers" but agreements which include all the concerns of all the stakeholders and civil society, so as to have the agreement accepted and respected by the people on the ground.'

The EU has been at the forefront of global efforts to stop illegal logging and trade in illegal wood products since 2003 when it launched the EU FLEGT Action Plan. FLEGT stands for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade. The Action Plan combines both demand-side and supply-side measures to halt illegal logging, which has severe environmental, social and economic consequences worldwide.

Today, 15 countries are working in partnership with the EU on the supply side of the fight against illegal logging. Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia and Republic of the Congo have agreed Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with the EU to ensure that the timber and timber products they export to the EU are legal according to the laws of their country. Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guyana, Honduras, Côte d'Ivoire, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are negotiating VPAs. These 15 countries harbour much of the world's tropical forest, which is rich in biodiversity, sustains the livelihoods of millions of people and provides various ecosystem services that help mitigate climate change by storing carbon.

On the demand side, EU Member States are implementing the EU Timber Regulation which came into effect on 3 March 2013, as well as improving public sector procurement and other elements of the FLEGT Action Plan.

The three-day meeting, beginning on 9 October, brought together more than 130 people from around the world to improve coordination and share experiences and lessons learned. Participants included representatives of governments, civil society and the private sector, as well as members of EU delegations. 

‘This year is a special one because we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the FLEGT Action Plan,' said Roberto Ridolfi, Director for Sustainable Development at the EU's Directorate General for Development and Cooperation. ‘A lot has been achieved. Reports indicate that illegal logging is decreasing. However, the battle still needs to be won! FLEGT is at the crossroads: we await the first shipments of FLEGT-licensed timber. Your action is critical to the success of FLEGT.'

Many participants spoke about the visible impact VPAs are having on forest governance in countries engaged in VPAs.

‘Unprecedented levels of stakeholder participation in VPA countries is creating political space for dialogue and raising awareness of illegal logging and broader deforestation issues,' said Bernard Crabbé, head of the forestry sector of the EU's Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation. ‘VPAs are raising the profile of the forest sector, providing leverage for institutions in charge of forestry to engage with other key departments, supporting the capacity building of civil society, private sector and governments, and increasing transparency.'

An Bollen of the nongovernmental organisation FERN said VPAs are improving forest governance through a revolutionary process that engages many different kinds of stakeholders in negotiation and implementation. She said it is important to further develop VPAs and to use the multistakeholder approach as a model for EU trade agreements and development negotiations in relation to other commodities.

Participants working on the ground affirmed that the VPA process creates a space for civil society to participate in negotiations but pointed to challenges during the implementation phase. 

‘The challenge comes when you move from negotiation to implementation,' said Cath Long of the nongovernmental organisation Well Grounded. ‘Quite a few of the organisations we work with struggle with that. It is about ensuring that civil society organisations realize that they can participate in official processes and also still initiate, suggest and propose ideas during implementation. Certain organisations are doing that: picking up, developing projects and coming back to the government and holding them to account.'

Mardi Minangsari of the Environmental Investigation Agency in Indonesia affirmed that VPAs are creating space for participants but points to the challenge of maintaining it: ‘One of the biggest challenges for civil society is not really about creating space, but maintaining that space.'

Once solution to this challenge is to approach negotiation and implementation as one process, said Glen Asomaning of the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) West Africa Forest Programme.

‘A lot of the time we see negotiation as one entity and implementation as another entity,' said Asomaning. ‘As much as possible, I would suggest that while negotiating we think about what we will do at the implementation stage. It is good to think about this before you conclude negotiations.'

Asomaning also suggested that VPA stakeholders begin in the negotiation phase to plan for resources needed during implementation. 

‘One underlying factor is the resources you need to move the process forward,' said Asomaning. ‘My suggestion is to start thinking very early on about the financial, technical, infrastructure resources to get the process moving as soon as negotiation is completed.' 

Looking ahead, Bernard Crabbé outlined five priority actions for 2013–2014:
• Implementing VPAs and delivering the first shipments of FLEGT-licensed timber
• Concluding ongoing VPA negotiations while preparing for the implementation of these agreements 
• Implementing the EU Timber Regulation
• Increasing engagement with the private sector
• Launching a 10-year review of the Action Plan (2003–2013)

Hugo-Maria Schally, head of the Global Sustainability, Trade and Multilateral Agreements Unit at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Environment, reflected positively on a decade since agreement of the FLEGT Action Plan. ‘FLEGT is on track for fully implementing what was planned 10 years ago,' he said.