The process of establishing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) on the licensing and trade of legal forest products depends on the country context of the individual partner country. The process involves the different forest stakeholders affected by logging operations, including representatives of the private sector and civil society. As VPAs are bilateral agreements, they are being negotiated between an individual country and the European Union. But the establishment of the various elements included in the VPA also foster several in-country processes and discussions between and among the stakeholders in the partner country.
Step 1: Information and pre-negotiation phase
If a country signals interest and requests information on FLEGT VPAs, the EU and its partners provide materials and are available to exchange and share VPA information with country representatives and stakeholders. Subsequently the partner country government, with input from the private sector and civil society, can assess if a VPA is appropriate for the country: it may gather information and foster dialogue with stakeholders to determine advantages to enter into VPA negotiations. The pre-negotiation phase ends with the mutual agreement between the partner country and the EU to launch formal VPA negotiations.
Step 2: Formal negotiations
During the phase of formal negotiations, agreement needs to be reached on the contents of the VPA. The EU and the partner country discuss the details of the Legality Assurance System (LAS), and a number of forest governance commitments which will be included in Annexes to the legal text of the agreement. A key requirement of the process is that the LAS results from an inclusive multi-stakeholder process. In order to achieve in-country consensus on a number of VPA requirements, partner countries develop and organise a process that allows stakeholders to provide input and their perspectives and help formulate country positions (stakeholder consultation process). These country positions are then being discussed with the EU in negotiations. Once negotiations have been concluded and the contents of the VPA have been agreed upon, the EU and the partner country initial the VPA.
Step 3: Ratification process AND system development phase
After the initialing, the agreement needs to be ratified by both Parties. With regard to EU procedures, the subsequent ratification process comprises two steps: the first step includes the translation of the VPA into the 23 official EU languages and ends with the signing of the agreement by the EU Council (representative of the EU Presidency), the European Commission and the partner country; the second step involves the European Parliament which needs to approve the agreement. The ratification of the VPA has been concluded with the publication of a decision adopted by the Council. During the ratification process, partner countries can already start developing the agreed systems as not all may have the systems in place to immediately control, verify and license legal timber. During the system development phase the partner country works on implementing the agreed upon VPA commitments, including the establishment of the different parts of the LAS, building capacity and the upgrading or establishment of new procedures. The system development phase is concluded by an evaluation stating that the LAS is fully operational.
Step 4: Full implementation and licensing
During the full implementation or licensing phase each timber product shipment from the partner country to the EU has to be accompanied by a FLEGT license to penetrate EU borders. The license states that this shipment is legal according to VPA requirements. Shipments without licenses will be rejected at the EU border. Each country will need to have an independent auditor to check if the LAS is operating correctly and the established system is working. The Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) is responsible for dispute resolution and ensures joint partner country and EU oversight during the full system development and implementation phase.