How are VPAs negotiated?
A VPA is a legally binding trade agreement between the EU and a timber-exporting country outside the EU. VPAs are bilateral agreements that are negotiated between an individual country and the EU. The process of negotiating and implementing each VPA is therefore different for each country. The EU provides technical assistance and capacity-building support.
Establishing a VPA also involves in-country negotiations and discussions. The forest stakeholders affected by logging operations, including representatives from the private sector and civil society, are involved in these.
Phase 1: Information and consensus building
If a timber-producing country signals that it is interested in a VPA and requests more information, the EU and its partners provide materials. They are also available to exchange and share information about VPAs with country representatives and stakeholders.
Based on the information it receives, the government then assesses whether a VPA would be appropriate, with input from the private sector and civil society. This phase ends either when the timber-producing country and the EU agree to launch formal VPA negotiations, or when the timber-producing country decides that a VPA would not be appropriate for its situation.
Phase 2: Formal negotiations
Agreement must be reached on the content of the VPA during this phase. The EU and the negotiating country discuss the details of the legality assurance system and the forest governance commitments which will be included in annexes to the legal text of the agreement.
A requirement of the legality assurance system is that it is the result of an inclusive, multistakeholder process. To get in-country consensus, the negotiating country develops and organises a consultation process that allows forest stakeholders to provide input. These in-country positions are then discussed with the EU during negotiations.
Once negotiations have been concluded and the contents of the VPA have been agreed upon, the EU and the country - now known as a 'partner country' - initial the VPA.
Phase 3: Ratification and implementation
After the initialling, the VPA must be ratified by the legislative arm of both the partner country government and the EU. First, the VPA is translated into the 24 official EU languages, and it is then signed by the Council of the EU (representative of the Council Presidency), the European Commission and the legislature of the partner country. The European Parliament then approves the agreement. After ratification, the Council decision is published.
Not all countries have systems in place that allow them to begin controlling, verifying and licensing legal timber immediately, so the partner country can start developing the systems agreed in the VPA before ratification. During system development, the partner country puts in place the legality assurance system, builds capacity and upgrades or develops new procedures.
The partner country uses an independent auditor to check that the legality assurance system is operating correctly and that the verification systems are working. The Joint Implementation Committee, made up of representatives from the partner country and the EU, is responsible for oversight and dispute resolution during this system development and implementation phase.
Phase 4: Licensing
During the licensing phase, each shipment of timber or timber products from the partner country to the EU must be accompanied by a FLEGT licence. The licence states that this shipment is legal according to the requirements set out in the VPA. Shipments without licences will be rejected at the EU border.
FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements, EU Directorate General for the Environment
Forest and illegal logging, EU Directorate General for Development and Cooperation - EuropeAid