What are the principal activities of the review?
The review is based on visits a sample of sites that represent the different types of permits or circumstances included in the definition. For example, these might include forest industrial concession areas, community forests, individual permits and different processing facilities. The team assesses the applicability and pertinence of each requirement and verifier in the legality definition and provides comments and recommendations for improvement where appropriate. The team will consider, for example: Can the requirements be implemented by companies and the government? Are the requirements and verifiers practical? Do the verifiers address the requirement? The team also checks whether references are correctly cited and are appropriate to support a requirement.
As part of the review, the team meets with forest operators, and representatives of communities and the government that are involved in or affected by the forest operation at the test site. These discussions help the team to understand stakeholders’ concerns, which could indicate possible gaps in the definition.
VPA countries have used independent reviews to ensure that the requirements and verifiers are clear, unambiguous and practical for the control agencies that are responsible for verification. The reviews identified where legality definition requirements or verifiers could be adjusted, improved or removed. For example, one review identified the need to establish a government procedure to keep a verifier. The verifier was a Health and Safety report from the Ministry of Health, but in practice the document had never been used. The Ministry of Health had not been involved in VPA discussions. The review led to discussions with the Ministry of Health to determine what could be done to maintain the verifier. The field test therefore provided useful guidance for the development of the verification procedure – another element of the TLAS that often takes place in parallel with the legality definition development.
Following the review, the team submits its report, with findings, recommendations and observations. The partner country analyses and assesses the team’s report and, if necessary, modifies the Legality Definition. In some cases, this has initiated further stakeholder consultation on the requirements, new government procedures (as in the above example) or clarification of the legislation. Changes to the legality definition are presented and confirmed in a negotiation session with the EU.
Reflection on the verification procedures can often help inform and lead to further refinement of the legality definition. A final legality definition is, however, needed in order to finalise the verification procedures, as it is the definition that sets out the requirements that need to be verified in the VPA.