This media backgrounder provides journalists with information on the Central African Republic-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.
The Central African Republic-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement
- Illegal logging creates social problems, environmental degradation and loss of economic opportunities
- Between 2009 and 2010, the Central African Republic and the EU negotiated a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to promote trade in legal timber products and improve forest governance.
- The Central African Republic and the EU signed the VPA in 2011 and ratified it in 2012. They are now implementing the commitments they made in the agreement.
- A political and military crisis that began in 2012 disrupted VPA implementation.
- In April 2016, a democratic election brought a new president and government to power; with the country stabilising, there is increased momentum for the VPA.
- Once the Central African Republic has implemented a timber legality assurance system and other commitments outlined in the VPA, it will export to the EU only verified legal timber products accompanied by FLEGT licences.
- FLEGT-licensed timber products from the Central African Republic will be able to enter the EU market without undergoing the due diligence checks required by the EU Timber Regulation.
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.
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. The Central African Republic 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
A VPA partner country that has implemented a timber legality assurance system and other VPA commitments can issue 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 issue FLEGT licences only to legal timber products.
While FLEGT licensing is an important goal, it is not the end point of a VPA process. Governance reforms, legislative and policy reforms, impact monitoring, improvements to the timber legality assurance system and other activities continue.
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 the Central African Republic meet the legality requirements of markets beyond the EU.
The Central African Republic-EU VPA
The Central African Republic-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is a legally binding trade agreement. It aims to ensure that the Central African Republic produces and exports only legal timber and timber products by improving forest governance and law enforcement.
The Central African Republic and the EU negotiated the terms of the VPA through a cooperative process: both parties share the goals of eliminating illegality and fostering good forest governance.
VPA negotiations started in 2009. The negotiations involved representatives of Central African Republic civil society organisations, the private sector, and government ministries and agencies. As a result, significant national ownership and stakeholder engagement were achieved and the VPA reflects a broad consensus among stakeholders.
The Central African Republic and the EU signed the VPA in 2011 and ratified it in 2012. They are now implementing the commitments laid out in the VPA text and annexes [PDF].
The Central African Republic commits to developing a timber legality assurance system so it can issue FLEGT licences to verified legal timber products it exports to the EU. The system will not cover the domestic market.
Once the timber legality assurance system is operational, the Central African Republic commits to export to the EU only FLEGT-licensed timber products.
Before FLEGT licensing can begin, however, the EU and the Central African Republic must confirm that the Central African Republic’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 Central African Republic-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.
The Central African Republic also commits to implementing legal reforms, publicly disclosing information about the forest sector and making other improvements to forest governance. The EU and Central African Republic 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]. In addition to the agreed commitments, the VPA process itself has fostered multistakeholder participation, transparency, legislative clarity, legal reforms and other aspects of good governance (see How the Central African Republic-EU VPA has improved forest governance).
A Central African Republic-EU Joint Implementation Committee oversees implementation of the VPA. Records of discussions are made public. At the national level, the Ministry of Water, Forests, Hunting and Fishing has created the Permanent Technical Secretariat to coordinate VPA implementation.
The Central African Republic has also established a national committee for monitoring and implementing the agreement, providing advice and maintaining stakeholder participation (CNMOS, Comité National de Mise en Oeuvre et de Suivi). The committee includes representatives from all stakeholder groups and meets monthly.
Between 2012 and 2016, a political and military crisis affected the Central African Republic and disrupted VPA implementation. Since democratic elections in 2016, stability has been returning and VPA momentum has increased again.
The Central African Republic’s efforts to tackle illegal logging
Since 1984, and with the support of the EU, and France in particular, the Central African Republic has made considerable efforts to promote the sustainable management of forest in the southwest of the country and eradicate illegal logging.
As a result, over the past two decades, the Central African Republic has established sustainable forest management plans for all of the forest area allocated for exploitation.
The country has also set up a verification unit, outsourced to an external body, to confirm that timber products exported are adequately registered and that taxes have been paid to the government. The VPA complements these efforts by introducing a robust and systematic approach to verifying all aspects of timber legality.
- 2009: The Central African Republic and the EU start negotiating a VPA
- 2010: The Central African Republic and the EU agree the content of the VPA
- 2011: The Central African Republic and the EU sign the VPA
- 2012: The Central African Republic and the EU ratify the VPA
- 2012: First meeting of the Central African Republic-EU Joint Implementation Committee
- 2014: Second meeting of the Central African Republic-EU Joint Implementation Committee
- 2015: The Central African Republic and the EU resume implementing the VPA
The Central African Republic’s timber legality assurance system
Under the VPA, the Central African Republic committed to develop a rigorous yet practical system for assuring the legality of its timber, through an inclusive multistakeholder process. The timber legality assurance system described in the Central African Republic-EU VPA has five components:
- Legality definition: The legality definition states the aspects of the Central African Republic’s law for which the timber legality assurance system evaluates compliance with for purposes of FLEGT licensing. The legality definition applies to allocation rights, applies all along the timber supply chain and applies to all timber products from concessions.
- 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. As the Central African Republic is landlocked, its timber exports to the EU pass through other countries to sea ports. The Central African Republic, therefore, subcontracts part of its supply chain controls to ensure data for shipments bound for the EU can be reconciled.
- 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.
- 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 the Central African Republic and the EU confirms that the system works as described in the VPA (see Next steps).
- 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.
How the Central African Republic-EU VPA has improved forest governance
The Central African Republic-EU VPA has already had an impact, both as a result of what the Central African Republic and the EU have committed to, and as a result of the multistakeholder process of negotiating and implementing the agreement. In addition, to the agreed commitments, the VPA process itself has fostered multistakeholder participation, transparency, legislative clarity, legal reforms and other aspects of good governance.
Greater participation in decision-making
The level of stakeholder participation in the VPA process is unprecedented. During the VPA negotiations, representatives of civil society and the private sector participated alongside government in the national VPA steering committee. The stakeholder groups are also represented in the national multistakeholder implementation committee (CNMOS, Comité National de la Mise en Œuvre et Suivi) and the Central African Republic-EU Joint Implementation Committee.
Enhanced capacity to address illegal logging
The VPA process has strengthened the capacity of government, the private sector and civil society stakeholders to work together to address illegality in the Central African Republic forest sector. Capacity building has included training to enable civil society groups to organise themselves into a platform that can contribute to discussions on the forest sector and beyond, such as consultations around a new constitution.
An annex to the VPA lists the information the government of the Central African Republic commits to disclose to the public. The stakeholder platforms and multistakeholder committees established during the VPA process enhance communication and allow all actors to request information.
The VPA process has clarified the meaning of legality in the forest sector in the Central African Republic. The VPA legality definition makes clear what operators in the timber sector must do to comply with the law, and the indicators and verification measures public authorities must use to assess legality. The clear legality definition makes it easier for government bodies to enforce the law and for the justice system to take appropriate action in cases of illegality.
The timber legality assurance system clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of all government bodies and their staff, making them accountable for enforcing the law.
Implement the timber legality assurance system
To implement the timber legality assurance system, the ministry responsible for forestry will need to guarantee that it can undertake all the verification required by the VPA legality definition. The ministry will need to allocate staff and equipment, to develop procedures to ensure a systematic approach to verifying legality and to set up communication channels to make verification information available.
Begin trade in FLEGT-licensed timber
When a joint Central African Republic-EU evaluation concludes that the timber legality assurance system is fully operational as described in the VPA, the Joint Implementation Committee can propose that the Central African Republic begins to issue FLEGT licences. Once the decision to commence FLEGT licensing has been made, 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 Central African Republic 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.
The EU and the Central African Republic made a joint commitment to monitor the social, economic and environmental effects of the agreement. Monitoring examines whether a VPA is having the desired outcomes and can identify unintended negative effects for the EU and Central African Republic to address and mitigate.
Independent market monitoring
The European Commission has appointed the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) as the independent market monitor for all VPA countries. ITTO will assess the trade in timber products between the Central African Republic and the EU, and the impacts of FLEGT licensing on this trade.