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Southeast Asia marks progress in combating illegal timber trade

Southeast Asia marks progress in combating illegal timber trade

Representatives from eight member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) shared their achievements in developing reliable timber legality assurance systems at a workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia from 6-8 December 2016.

Indonesia shared its success in becoming, in November, the world’s first country to issue FLEGT licences through a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU.

An open, transparent process and trust-building through dialogue were both crucial to the VPA’s multi-stakeholder approach, said Mardi Minangsari, of Indonesia’s Independent Forestry Monitoring Network, who has tracked the process as a civil society representative for 15 years.

Vietnam, meanwhile, is expected to sign its VPA with the EU in March 2017, having begun negotiations in 2010. The country is a major hub for the global timber trade, importing wood from more than 80 other countries for processing and re-export.

How to incorporate the legality of imported wood was “one of the most important topics that took up a lot of negotiation time,” said Huynh Van Hanh, standing vice-chair of the Handicraft and Wood Industry Association in Vietnam who gave a presentation on behalf of the Vietnamese delegation.

Thailand, another major timber importer and processor in the region, reported that it would begin field tests of its timber legality definition in 2017.

Banjong Wongsrisoontorn, Director of the Forest Certification Office in Thailand’s Royal Forest Department informed the workshop that Thailand had submitted its draft VPA annexes on legality definition, product scope and supply chain control to the EU in 2016.

Laos is also finalising its legality definition and is hoping to conclude VPA negotiations with the EU in 2018.

“The VPA process is complex,” said Dr Khamfeua Sirivongs, Head of the FLEGT Standing Office and Deputy Director of Forest Technique Standard Development Division, in the Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. “One of our main challenges would be to keep stakeholders in the private sector and civil society engaged.”

Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines are also taking steps to strengthen their national timber legality assurance systems.

Such a system has been in place in Peninsular Malaysia since 2013. In 2016, the Malaysian government introduced a legality requirement for timber products imported into Peninsular Malaysia from 3 January 2017.

While VPA negotiation has stalled in Malaysia since 2014, the Malaysian government recognised that “legality verification is necessary to meet current market demand, not just in the EU,” said Eleine Juliana Malek, Principal Assistant Secretary of the Timber, Tobacco and Kenaf Industries Development Division, at Malaysia’s Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

Myanmar, which is preparing for a VPA, is carrying out a gap analysis of its timber legality assurance system, which it developed in 2013.

“The analysis is being done to strengthen the Myanmar timber legality assurance system to meet international [legality] requirements,” said Phyo Zin Mon Naing, Assistant Director of Forest Department, at Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Cambodia is implementing recommendations from an independent timber trade flow study conducted in 2014, and is building its capacity to engage in a VPA process, said So Lorn, Deputy Director of the Department of Forest Industry and International Cooperation in Cambodia’s Forestry Administration.

Although the Philippines is not currently engaged in a VPA process, it is upgrading its timber legality assurance system to comply with the ASEAN Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management.

“What we have in the Philippines now is a ‘one-way traffic’: once the logs are processed into lumber we cannot trace it back to the forest of origin,” said Raul M Briz, chief of the Forest Protection Section in the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “We hope to achieve 100% ‘back to stump’ traceability for our wood production.”

He added that the new timber legality assurance system would be subjected to a nationwide multi-stakeholder consultation before it is implemented.

Fostering ASEAN cooperation

Thang Hooi Chiew, an independent consultant who conducted a study on the feasibility of a regional mechanism for mutual recognition of timber legality, reported that it is highly feasible to develop an ASEAN Timber Legality Verification Scheme.

He said such a scheme could be based on the ASEAN Criteria and Indicators for Legality of Timber, which would need to be reviewed and revised against global standards.

However, he said “it is best that a phased approach be adopted,” as ASEAN member states are at varying stages of developing timber legality systems and certification schemes.

Thang also recommended assessing the capacity of existing and potential certification bodies to carry out training on forest management and chain-of-custody certification, and strengthening regional customs cooperation to facilitate legal timber trade in the region.

Representatives from the ASEAN secretariat and EU FAO FLEGT programme also shared potential collaboration opportunities at the regional level.

Earlier in 2016, the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry officially adopted the Work Plan for Forest Governance in ASEAN (2016-2025).

Dian Sukmajaya, a senior officer from the ASEAN secretariat, said plans are now being made to develop a regional framework for mutual recognition of timber legality, and help small and medium forest enterprises to meet international trade requirements, among others.

“We also hope to encourage private sector to market forest products from legal sources,” Sukmajaya added, noting that more must be done to raise consumer awareness in the region.

Meanwhile, the EU FAO FLEGT Programme is exploring potential synergies between timber legality assurance systems and forest certification schemes.

The programme’s regional coordinator Bruno Cammaert suggested that recognition between timber legality assurance systems and certification could reduce the burden on operators and enhance verification, monitoring and complaints mechanisms.

Other topics discussed during the workshop include civil society’s role in developing timber legality assurance systems, the empowerment of small and medium forest enterprises, and control of imports into ASEAN countries.

About 80 participants from governments, private sector, civil society and observers from the EU delegations in the region attended this fifth sub-regional training workshop on timber legality assurance systems.

It was co-organised by the ASEAN Secretariat, the EU FLEGT Facility hosted by the European Forest Institute, and Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, with support from GIZ.