At the centre of each Voluntary Partnership Agreements is a
Legality Assurance System (LAS). Its function is to identify, monitor and license legally-produced timber, and ensure that only legal timber is exported to the European Union. However, the partner countries may also choose to establish a system that ensures legality of timber to all markets, rather than just be confined to exports to the EU.
Each VPA partner country designs its own system during negotiations, based on existing control mechanisms to be reinforced and the country’s legislative framework. The technicalities of the LAS are detailed in the Agreement.
An effective system ensuring timber legality includes verification of forest operations as well as the control of timber transport and processing through different owners, from harvesting to the points of export.
A robust LAS consists of five key elements:
(1) A clear definition of legal timber;
(2) Mechanism to control the timber supply chains;
(3) Verification of compliance to the Legality Definition (point 1) and controlled timber supply chains (point 2);
(4) Licensing of legally produced timber and timber products for exports;
(5) Independent auditof the LAS to ensure the system is fully implemented
The national legality definition outlines the legislative and regulatory requirements to be systematically fulfilled and verified to ensure legal compliance of timber products before a FLEGT license can be issued in a VPA partner country. The development of the Legality Definition involves stakeholders so that there is a wide consensus supporting the defined requirements. This set of legal requirements should include laws responding to economic, environmental and social aspects of forest management and timber processing. The resulting standard consists of criteria and indicators with references to national law and includes verifiers to be used for checking compliance.
Control of the supply chain
The LAS ensures that timber entering the supply chain originates from legal sources and that the timber flows are controlled throughout the supply chain, from the forest where the timber is harvested through transport, storage facilities and processing until the point of export. Timber tracking systems help demonstrate the legal origin so that each stage of the supply chain is duly controlled and no unverified timber has entered the supply chain.
The governments of partner countries assign governmental or non-governmental bodies that are tasked to systematically verify the legality of timber for the EU market. The verification body shall ensure that timber has been produced and/or processed in compliance with the Legality Definition and its supply chain has been controlled as defined in the LAS. A verification body must have adequate resources and procedures to carry out documentary and field verifications.
Issuance of FLEGT licenses
National Licensing Authorities, assigned by the partner country’s government, are tasked to issue FLEGT licenses to individual export consignments that have passed the verification tests as of the definitions of the LAS. The licensing authority can obtain necessary verification evidence from government bodies or internal control systems of the private sector operators. If the latter option is applied, the LAS shall describe how to assess, approve and monitor (e.g. by third party certifiers) the internal controls of the operators.
The purpose of an independent audit is to ensure the reliability of the LAS by monitoring that all system components have been implemented as prescribed. The Government appoints an Independent Auditor, who as a third party possesses necessary skills and methods to ensure its independence and objectivity for checking the LAS implementation, identification of non-compliances and system failures, and reporting of its findings. A summary of each audit report is made publicly available.
Mandatory Implementation Bodies:
The Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) is a committee established for each FELGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) made up of representatives of the Partner Country, the European Commission and Member States. Its role is to facilitate and monitor the implementation of the VPA, and to mediate and resolve any conflicts and disputes that may arise. This Committee meets regularly and at least twice a year. The independent auditor described above reports to the Joint Implementation Committee.
Optional Implementation Bodies
In addition to the independent audit, independent observation can be undertaken by a body as part of a national control system. It is contracted independently of the VPA by governments and focuses on the monitoring of law enforcement by the Ministry in charge of forests.
Stakeholder involvement can also be fostered in different ways. This has been the case in Ghana via the “Timber Validation Council” or in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) via the “Multi-stakeholder Technical Secretariat”, which ensures that civil society groups and the private sector which have been involved in the VPA negotiation can also raise their voices and participate in the VPA implementation.
EC FLEGT Briefing Note 02:
What is legal timber
EC FLEGT Briefing Note 03:
A timber LAS
EC FLEGT Briefing Note 04:
Control of the supply chain
EC FLEGT Briefing Note 05:
LAS: requirements for verification
EC FLEGT Briefing Note 07: