Media backgrounder

The Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement

This media backgrounder provides journalists with information on the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement, which aims to address illegal logging, improve forest governance and promote trade in legal timber products. The backgrounder explains the aims of the VPA, progress to date and next steps. 

Cameroon’s forest sector

Cameroon’s forests provide millions of people with jobs and subsistence products, and account for 8% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Between 1990 and 2010, however, 18% of Cameroon’s forests were destroyed and many millions more hectares of forest were degraded. From 2010-2015 forest cover continued to decline by an average of 1.1% each year. Illegal logging, enabled by poor forest governance and driven by trade, is a major contributor to deforestation. Around 58% of Cameroon’s timber exports are sent to the EU. The value of those exports in USD 532 million. The Cameroon-EU trade in timber, therefore, has a role to play in addressing the problem of illegal logging.

Sources: FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 and EFI Forest Products Trade Flow Database

What is a VPA?

A Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is a legally binding trade agreement between the EU and a timber-exporting country outside the EU. A VPA aims to ensure that all timber and timber products destined for the EU market from a partner country comply with the laws of that country.

In addition to promoting trade in legal timber, VPAs address the causes of illegality by improving forest governance and law enforcement. A major strength of VPAs is that they look beyond trade to consider development and environmental issues, as well as effects on local populations.

Stakeholders in government, the private sector and civil society develop VPAs through a participatory process. A VPA is, therefore, a vehicle for addressing the needs of different stakeholders and for including many people who have never before had a voice in decision-making.

VPAs are a key component of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan of 2003. Cameroon is one of six tropical countries that have ratified and are implementing VPAs. Nine more are negotiating VPAs with the EU, while others have expressed interest in negotiating a VPA.

How a VPA promotes legal timber trade

Under a VPA, a partner country issues verified legal timber products with FLEGT licences. The advantage of this is that FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits EU operators from placing illegally harvested timber and timber products on the EU market.

The EUTR entered into force in 2013. It requires EU operators to perform due diligence checks to ensure the timber products they place on the EU market are legal. FLEGT-licensed timber meets the due diligence requirements under the EUTR.

A VPA partner country can only issue FLEGT licences through a timber legality assurance system that the EU and the partner country have agreed on, developed and tested. Before a country can begin FLEGT licensing, the EU and the partner country must confirm that the country’s timber legality assurance system works as described in the VPA. Confirmation by the two parties means that the system is robust and will issues licenses only to legal timber.

FLEGT licensing is not the only goal of a VPA process. Governance reforms, legislative and policy reforms, impact monitoring, improvements to the timber legality assurance system are complementary objectives targeted by VPAs.

Through progress on VPAs, the EU Timber Regulation and dialogues with other important timber markets, including China, the EU and the VPA partner countries are contributing to a growing global movement to address trade in illegal timber and timber products. The United States and Australia also prohibit the placing of illegal timber on their markets. The process to achieve FLEGT licences may therefore help VPA partner countries such as Cameroon meet the legality requirements of markets beyond the EU.

Moving cut trees near the village of Mbedoumou, Central Region, Cameroon

Moving cut trees near the village of Mbedoumou, Central Region, Cameroon

Source: Ollivier Girard, CIFOR

Moving cut trees near the village of Mbedoumou, Central Region, Cameroon

Source: Ollivier Girard, CIFOR

The Cameroon-EU VPA

The Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is a legally binding trade agreement. It aims to ensure that Cameroon produces and exports only legal timber and timber products by improving forest governance and law enforcement.

Although VPAs are primarily concerned with international trade, Cameroon decided to include the production of timber for the domestic market in its agreement.

VPA negotiations

Cameroon and the EU negotiated the terms of the VPA through a cooperative process.

VPA negotiations started in November 2007. The negotiations involved representatives of Cameroonian civil society organisations, the private sector, and government ministries and agencies, contributing to national ownership and stakeholder engagement.

The VPA was agreed in May 2010, signed in October 2010 and ratified in December 2011. Cameroon and the EU are now implementing the commitments laid out in the VPA text and annexes [PDF].

VPA commitments

Cameroon commits to developing a timber legality assurance system so it can issue verified legal timber products with FLEGT licences. Once this system is operational, only FLEGT-licensed timber products will be authorised in the EU, which will allow imports of these products without requiring additional due diligence checks from operators.

Before FLEGT licensing can begin, however, the EU and Cameroon must confirm that Cameroon’s timber legality assurance system is working and meets the requirements set out in the VPA, through a joint evaluation of the system. The joint evaluation must satisfy the Cameroon-EU Joint Implementation Committee that the system is ready to issue FLEGT licences, meaning the system is robust and credible enough to ensure it licenses only legal products.

Cameroon also commits to implementing legal reforms, publicly disclosing information about the forest sector and making other improvements to forest governance. The EU and Cameroon jointly commit to monitor the social, economic and environmental effects of the agreement.

The timber legality assurance system, governance reforms and other commitments are described in the VPA’s main text and annexes [PDF].

Community forest monitor in action

Community forest monitor in action

Source: FODER

Community forest monitor in action

Source: FODER

VPA implementation

A Cameroon-EU Joint Implementation Committee oversees implementation of the VPA. Two structures make up the Joint Implementation Committee: a Joint Implementation Council and a Joint Monitoring Committee. Records of discussions are made public. At the national level, the Ministry of Forests (MINFOF, Ministère des forêts et de la faune) coordinates implementation. A National Monitoring Committee that includes representatives of stakeholder groups focuses on implementation of the VPA from the Cameroonian side.

The VPA includes a framework for overseeing, monitoring and evaluating implementation of the VPA and its economic, social and environmental impacts.

Key dates in Cameroon’s efforts to tackle illegal logging

  • 2002: Cameroon establishes independent observer initiatives
  • 2003: Cameroon hosts the Africa Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Ministerial Conference
  • 2005: Cameroon passes a national forest and fauna law enforcement strategy (SNCFF, Stratégie Nationale des Contrôles Forestiers et Fauniques)
  • 2007: Cameroon and the EU begin negotiating a VPA
  • 2010: Cameroon and the EU sign the VPA
  • 2011: Cameroon and the EU ratify the VPA; they establish a Joint Implementation Council and a Joint Monitoring Committee to oversee the implementation of the VPA
  • 2012: The Joint Implementation Council and the Joint Monitoring Committee hold three working sessions; Cameroon establishes a National Monitoring Committee to implement the VPA from the Cameroonian side. The Committee holds its first working session; The independent auditor of the VPA timber legality assurance system is contracted for a period of two years
  • 2013: The National Monitoring Committee holds two working sessions; a forest information management system (SIGIF, Système informatisé de gestion des informations forestières) is put in place; Cameroon publishes rules and procedures for delivering legality certificates and for issuing agreements to private certification organisations; Cameroon sets up a website to make public information related to the forest sector; the Joint Implementation Council and the Joint Monitoring Committee hold two working sessions
  • 2014: Cameroon establishes four working groups on specific issues related to the implementation of the VPA: independent auditing, timber legality assurance system, impact monitoring and conversion timber; the independent auditor of the VPA timber legality assurance system presents the audit results for the title allocation process and for seized timber; the Joint Implementation Council and the Joint Monitoring Committee hold one working session; the National Monitoring Committee holds two working sessions
  • 2015: The National Monitoring Committee holds two working sessions; the Joint Implementation Council and the Joint Monitoring Committee hold two working sessions
  • 2016: Cameroon establishes procedures to make forest information public; the National Monitoring Committee holds one working session; the Joint Monitoring Committee holds one working session

Cameroon’s timber legality assurance system

The timber legality assurance system described in the Cameroon-EU VPA has five components:

  1. Legality definition: The legality definition states the aspects of Cameroon’s law for which the timber legality assurance system evaluates compliance with for purposes of FLEGT licensing.
  2. Supply chain controls: Supply chain controls ensures that timber products verified as legal remain legal throughout all processes associated with the supply chain. Supply chain controls also prevent verified legal products being tainted by unverified products entering the supply chain.
  3. Verification of compliance: Verification of compliance involves checks that all the requirements of the VPA legality definition and supply chain controls have been met to ensure that timber products are legal
  4. FLEGT licensing: A FLEGT licensing authority issues FLEGT licences to consignments of timber products that the verification mechanism has confirmed are legally compliant. FLEGT licensing cannot begin until a joint evaluation of the timber legality assurance system by Cameroon and the EU confirms that the system works as described in the VPA (see Next steps)
  5. Independent audit: The independent audit regularly checks that all aspects of the legality assurance system work properly. An annex to the VPA provides terms of reference for the auditor. The auditor produces reports for the Joint Implementation Committee and the public.

Actions to improve governance under the Cameroon-EU VPA

Participation in decision-making

During VPA negotiations, representatives of civil society and the private sector participated alongside government representatives in the National Steering Committee and its five technical working groups. These stakeholder groups are also represented in the National Multistakeholder Monitoring Committee and the Cameroon-EU Joint Implementation Committee.

Capacity development to address illegal logging

  • The Ministry of Forests has built the capacity of staff in charge of forest law enforcement on issues related to VPA implementation. This has included training on the new penal code and on the new information and traceability tools
  • Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Cameroon are learning how to adapt to new market requirements. In 2014, SME timber producers from Cameroon visited Brussels and met with importers and authorities enforcing timber legislation in the EU. SMEs have also established a timber trade federation that represents them and links them with EU importers
  • Civil society organisations are paying particular attention to strengthening the capacity of local actors in independent monitoring. They are also making local communities aware of Cameroon’s VPA commitments
Information transparency Workshop, 2014

Information transparency Workshop, 2014

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Information transparency Workshop, 2014

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Transparency

An annex to the VPA lists the information the Government of Cameroon commits to disclose publicly. MINFOF has developed a dedicated VPA website (http://apvcameroun.cm) to publish information and in 2016 established procedures to manage and make public information relevant to the forest sector. Local civil society organisations have been deeply engaged in the issue of transparency. In 2012, the local NGO FODER (Forêts et Développement Rural) and MINFOF launched an initiative to increase transparency and fight corruption in the forest sector (ITAC, Initiative pour la transparence et la lutte anti-corruption). A web platform for reporting on corruption was set up in 2013 (www.anti-cor.org). In 2014, the local NGO CED (Centre for Environment and Development) held a regional workshop on the public information annex in the VPA. The workshop enabled representatives of other countries working on VPAs to draw lessons from Cameroon’s experience

Legislation

The VPA process has made the law relating to Cameroon’s forest sector clearer. The VPA legality definition clarifies what operators in the timber sector must do to comply with the law and the indicators and verification measures auditors must use to assess legality. Clear legislation makes it easier for the police to enforce the law and for the justice system to prosecute illegal loggers.

Measures cover the domestic market

Cameroon chose to include timber for the domestic market in its VPA. Therefore, Cameroon’s timber legality assurance system will apply to all timber produced in the country, irrespective of its destination.

Empowered communities

In Cameroon, the VPA process has opened up spaces for participation. Civil society representatives actively engaged in negotiating the VPA. The National Monitoring Committee, central to the implementation of the VPA, has one seat each for NGOs, local communities, indigenous peoples and representatives of communal forests.  Representatives of civil society and communities have also been regularly invited to attend the Joint Monitoring Committee meetings.

Next steps

Improve forest information management to meet the needs of the timber legality assurance system

Cameroon has already established the legal basis for issuing FLEGT licences to meet VPA requirements. In late 2014, Cameroon appointed a service provider to upgrade its forest information management system, known as SIGIF, so it can record the information needed to issue legality certificates, verify the chain of custody, include fiscal information and document non-compliances. The updated version, SIGIF2, will underpin the timber legality assurance system.

Begin trading FLEGT-licensed timber

FLEGT licensing cannot begin until a joint evaluation of the timber legality assurance system by Cameroon and the EU confirms that the system functions as described in the VPA. When the joint evaluation has concluded that the timber legality assurance system works as described in the VPA, the Joint Implementation Committee can propose that Cameroon begins to issue FLEGT licences. Once a decision is made to commence FLEGT licensing, the parties will follow their respective internal processes, including legislative measures, such as amending the FLEGT Regulation on the EU side.

Once FLEGT licensing begins, a valid FLEGT licence must accompany all exports to the EU of Cameroonian timber-based products listed in Annex I of the VPA. EU customs officials will deny entry to any products covered by the VPA that arrive without a valid FLEGT licence.

Impact monitoring

The EU and Cameroon have made a joint commitment to monitor the social, economic and environmental effects of the agreement. Monitoring will consider whether the VPA is having the desired outcomes. It will also identify unintended negative effects for the EU and Cameroon to address and mitigate. In 2014, the Joint Monitoring Committee established a multistakeholder working group to propose a monitoring system. The working group agreed on how to involve the different stakeholders. It also proposed to hire a consultant to support developing the monitoring system. The Joint Monitoring Committee is responsible for endorsing the system.

Independent market monitoring

The European Commission has appointed the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) as an independent market monitor for all VPA countries. ITTO will assess the trade in timber products between Cameroon and the EU, and the impacts of FLEGT licensing on this trade.
Working together against illegal logging around Kribi, Cameroon

Working together against illegal logging around Kribi, Cameroon

Source: FODER

Working together against illegal logging around Kribi, Cameroon

Source: FODER