This page provides answers to some common questions about the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement, FLEGT licensing, Cameroon’s timber legality assurance system and the EU Timber Regulation.
Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement
Part One: Background and basics
What is the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA)?
The VPA is a legally-binding bilateral trade agreement that aims to improve forest governance and promote trade in legal timber from Cameroon to the EU.
- VPAs are among the key tools of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Government and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan of 2003. As of mid-2016, Cameroon is one of five African countries that are implementing VPAs they have agreed with the EU.
- Under the VPA both parties commit to trading only in legal timber products.
- Among other things, the VPA describes a timber legality assurance system capable of verifying the legality of timber products. When fully operational the timber legality assurance system will issue FLEGT licences to accompany Cameroonian exports of verified legal timber products to the EU.
- Cameroon will then only export FLEGT-licensed timber products to the EU. The EU will only allow Cameroonian timber exports to enter the EU if they are accompanied by a valid FLEGT licence. FLEGT-licensed timber is considered as meeting the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation, which prohibits EU importers and domestic producers from placing illegally harvested timber and timber products on the EU market.
- FLEGT licensing is an important goal of the VPA but it is not the only one. The VPA process has already led to improved transparency, participation, capacity, accountability and other aspects of forest governance.
- The VPA includes commitments to public disclosure of information and further improvements to forest governance. The VPA also includes a framework for overseeing, monitoring and evaluating implementation of the VPA and the economic, social and environmental impacts of the VPA.
- Learn more about VPAs in VPA Unpacked. Learn more about the Cameroon-EU VPA in this media backgrounder. Read the text and annexes of the Cameroon-EU VPA.
Is the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement available online?
Yes, you can read the full agreement and its annexes here.
Why did Cameroon and EU decide to sign a VPA?
Through the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), Cameroon wishes to strengthen control over its forests while ensuring its timber exports can access the EU market. This formal commitment of the Government of Cameroon working alongside the European Union affirms the importance of the reform of the forest sector. The EU pursues VPAs as part of its EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan, which it adopted in 2003 to address illegal logging. Through VPAs, the EU helps partner countries improve forest governance and manage forests sustainably, while promoting trade in verified legal timber products. How was the Cameroon-EU VPA negotiated?
Cameroon and the EU negotiated the VPA through a process that involved input from stakeholders representing the Cameroonian government, private sector and civil society. In addition to participating in consultations about the VPA, each of these stakeholder groups was represented in the team that negotiated with the EU on Cameroon’s behalf.
- While the VPA was negotiated between Cameroon and the EU, much of its content was negotiated among stakeholders within Cameroon before being discussed in the bilateral negotiations.
- Negotiations began in 2007. Cameroon and the EU signed the agreement in 2010 and ratified the agreement in 2011. The VPA came into force in December 2011.
How big is the trade in illegal timber from Cameroon to the EU?
Since 2013, when the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) entered into application, operators in the EU have been prohibited from placing illegally-harvested timber on the market and have been required to exercise due diligence to avoid this risk.
Research on EUTR implementation between September 2015 and March 2016 revealed that Cameroon is one of the top five sources of timber for which EU operators were found to be non-compliant with the EUTR.
The research, published by Forest Trends (PDF), showed that in the six months to March 2016, enforcement officials in 14 EU Member States, the United States and Australia inspected 495 company sites and reviewed 955 due diligence systems. They issued a total of 396 corrective action requirements, four injunctions and 55 sanctions.
The five countries most often implicated were China, Brazil, Cameroon, Myanmar, and the Republic of the Congo.
Why is the VPA process taking so long?
Meaningful change takes time. Each VPA negotiation process takes the time necessary to build a consensus among national stakeholders and to design, revise and implement a timber legality assurance system that is robust and credible.
- Although it is taken longer than expected for Cameroon to deliver FLEGT-licensed timber, many other gains have resulted from the VPA process and its underlying national process already.
- The VPA process has involved an unprecedented level of stakeholder participation. Other benefits include improved transparency, legislative clarity, human and technical capacity, accountability and other aspects of good forest governance. For examples, see the media backgrounder on the Cameroon-EU VPA.
- The development of the computerised forest information management system (Système informatique de gestion des informations forestières or SIGIF II), a requirement for the implementation of the Cameroonian timber legality assurance system, has proved more challenging than expected, with substantial delays experienced. Overcoming these challenges will require political commitment from the VPA parties, and greater capacity within the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife to develop and implement the system.
When will FLEGT licensing start?
FLEGT licensing cannot begin until a joint assessment of the timber legality assurance system by Cameroon and the EU confirms that the system is fully operational, as described in the VPA.
What products does the Cameroon FLEGT-licensing scheme cover? How do the types of products compare with the types of products covered by the EU Timber Regulation?
During the VPA negotiations, Cameroonian stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society reached agreement on which types of timber products to include.
All wood products currently produced in Cameroon are covered by the VPA, including logs, sawn wood, veneers, plywood, flooring and furniture.
Products covered by the Cameroonian FLEGT licensing scheme include all those required by the EU regulation establishing a FLEGT licensing scheme, which are a minimum requirement for VPAs. You can check the products covered by the FLEGT licensing scheme here.
In addition to the minimum requirements of the product scope of a VPA, the Cameroonian FLEGT licensing scheme also covers furniture and wooden tools. See the Annex I of the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) for details.
The VPA also describes the list of species whose logs are banned from export and that cannot be legally exported from Cameroon. These products cannot be FLEGT licensed.
How do the EU and Cameroon make information about their formal meetings available?
Cameroon and the EU publish the minutes of meetings of the joint monitoring committee (JMC) and of the joint implementation council. The JMC also publishes an annual report. All of these publications appear on the VPA website of the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) and the website of the EU delegation to Cameroon.
In addition to the minutes of the joint VPA decision-making structures, Cameroon publishes the minutes of the national monitoring committee (NMC), the Cameroonian body involving national stakeholders in VPA implementation. These minutes also appear on the MINFOF’s VPA website.
How important is the trade in timber products from Cameroon to the EU?
The EU is a key market for Cameroonian forest products. In 2014, the value of Cameroonian timber products exported to the EU was US$532 million, which amounted to 58% of total timber exports (source: Comtrade).
- The EU is the main export market for Cameroonian forest products. Despite this, the importance of Asia as export market has increased during the last years.
- Between 2009 and 2012, the EU was the main destination for Cameroonian timber exports. Since 2012 exports to Asia (especially logs) have increased. By 2015, Asia imported almost as much as Europe. (Source: COMCAM reports 2009-2015).
- The main timber products destined for the EU are logs, sawn timber and veneers.
- For more information on trade flows see the COMCAM reports at the Cameroon VPA website.
- The website and reports of the FLEGT Independent Market Monitor also provides information on trade flows.
How much of Cameroon’s timber production does the VPA cover?
Once operational, the VPA’s timber legality assurance system will cover all timber and timber products produced, acquired and/or in circulation in Cameroon. This includes wood and timber products imported into Cameroon. Cameroon’s timber legality assurance system and related regulations apply to all markets. However, only exports to the EU will receive a FLEGT licence.
- By March 2016, there were 123 approved and operational forestry companies in Cameroon. The allocated area in forestry concessions was of about 6.3 million hectares in 2016.
- By the end of 2015, 79 of the 91 forestry concessions had approved management plans (Source: CIFOR). The total area under management was close to 5.6 million hectares.
- A 2012 official communication from the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) mentions 199 timber processing units (TPU) on Cameroonian territory, divided among the first (71), second (75) and third (53) degree of processing capacity.
How useful is the VPA, given that Cameroon’s timber products are increasingly going to less scrupulous markets than the EU?
Cameroon’s timber legality assurance system and related regulations apply to all markets.
- During the VPA negotiations, Cameroonian stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society agreed that the VPA timber legality assurance system should apply to all sources of timber and to all markets.
- With this commitment, the control and verification of operations will be the same for all timber and timber products produced, acquired and/or in circulation in Cameroon. FLEGT licenses, however, will be only issued to exports destined for the EU market. FLEGT alone cannot stop trade in illegal timber, especially if major markets remain less regulated. Indeed, under the FLEGT Action Plan, the EU seeks to work with other major timber consumers to develop a more comprehensive framework to reduce imports of illegally harvested timber.
- China, which is the world’s largest importer of tropical timber and also a major buyer of Cameroonian timber, is developing its own legality assurance system and there are efforts to link it to FLEGT under the EU-China Bilateral Coordination Mechanism on Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG). Further to the Bilateral Coordination Mechanism, bilateral exchanges between China and VPA implementing countries, including Cameroon, on timber legality occur and/or are planned.
- Vietnam, which is another major buyer of Cameroonian timber, is negotiating a VPA with the EU. Once Cameroon’s legality assurance system is operational, Cameroonian timber should become more attractive to Vietnam, as it will require minimal verification of legality at the point of import.
Part Two: How Cameroon verifies the legality of timber and timber products
What is the timber legality assurance system?
Cameroon’s timber legality assurance system is designed to verify the legality of timber from the forest or the point of import through the entire supply chain to the point of final sale or export. See Annex III of the VPA.
- The application of the timber legality assurance system is mandatory for all forest operations and industries, traders and timber depots, and for all export destinations.
- Cameroon developed its timber legality assurance system through a multistakeholder process. Government, private sector and civil society continue to be involved in the implementation of the system.
- Once the VPA timber legality assurance system is operational, all timber and timber products being harvested, processed, traded and transported in Cameroon will have to comply with the requirements of the system. Timber exported to the EU will received a FLEGT licence.
- As in all VPAs, the timber legality assurance system has the five essential components listed below.
- Legality definition: The legality definition clearly states the aspects of Cameroonian law for which the timber legality assurance system will systematically seek evidence of compliance. Cameroon has different legality matrices for different kinds of timber sources and permits.
- Supply chain control: The purpose of supply chain control is to ensure that unverified products do not enter the supply chain. In Cameroon, the control of the supply chain will be made possible through a computerised forest information management system (Système informatique de gestion des informations forestières or SIGIF II) ensuring monitoring and real-time reconciliation of forest data.
- Verification of compliance: This detects whether timber products comply with the VPA’s legality definition and supply chain controls and are therefore legal. Decree nº 002 of 7 February 2013 to implement SIGIF provides details about the management of the verification and traceability of the timber and timber products within the supply chain.
- FLEGT licensing: Cameroon adopted on 7 February 2013 Decree nº 003 regulating the procedure for issuing FLEGT licences. A FLEGT licencing authority will issue FLEGT licences for consignments of timber products, if the verification system has evidence consignments are legally compliant. FLEGT licensing cannot begin until a joint assessment of the timber legality assurance system by Cameroon and the EU confirms that the system is fully operational, as described in the VPA. The evaluation criteria are defined in Annex VIII of the VPA. The licensing authority is not yet established.
- Independent audit: The purpose of independent audit is to regularly check that all aspects of the legality assurance system are working properly. Annex VI to the VPA provides terms of reference for the auditor. Audits must take six months after the timber legality assurance system becomes operational, and at least once a year from the moment that Cameroon and the EU confirm that the system is functioning effectively. The auditor will produce reports for the Joint Implementation Council and a public report.
How does the timber legality assurance system work in Cameroon?
The VPA includes eight different legality standards for timber and timber products from different sources. For each legality standard, the VPA lists criteria, indicators and verifiers that can be used to assess compliance. In addition, the underlying Cameroonian legislation describes agreed upon verification methods. See Annex III of the VPA and the VPA website page on verification and traceability.
- To comply with the requirements of the VPA legality assurance system, all operators in the forest sector must apply for a certificate of legality. Only exporters need also to have an export licence or a FLEGT licence if the export is destined to the EU (once FLEGT licensing starts).
- To become certified, forest-based operators, timber depots, transformation industries and traders must conform to the relevant legality standard.
- Cameroon will use a computerised forest information management system (Système informatique de gestion des informations forestières, or SIGIF II) to control the supply chain by monitoring and reconciling forest data in real-time.
- The Cameroonian Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) will oversee the entire control and verification operations in coordination with regional and departmental forestry offices and logging company operators. The MINFOF will coordinate with other government agencies involved in regulation of forestry operations, particularly the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Labour.
- The issuance of FLEGT licences will be the responsibility of MINFOF. A licensing authority will issue FLEGT licences to accompany each EU-bound consignment of verified legal timber exports from registered operators.
- An independent audit will assess the functioning of the legality assurance system at least once a year.
- In addition, independent monitoring by civil society can provide information to support the verification activities of the National Forest Law Enforcement Brigade and the oversight of the timber legality assurance system by the Cameroon-EU VPA joint monitoring committee (JMC).
What is a certificate of legality?
A certificate of legality is a compulsory requirement for forest operators in Cameroon. A certificate of legality is a document issued by the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) attesting that the operator has conducted its activities in accordance with the law. Cameroon adopted on 7 February 2013 Decree nº 004 regulating the procedure for delivering certificates of legality in the context of the VPA.
- A certificate of legality remains valid for six months for community forests, salvage licences (autorisations de récupération de bois, ARB), harvested timber removal licences (autorisations d’enlèvement de bois, AEB), cut timber sale (vente de coupe) and special permits. For forest concessions, communal forests and processing units the validity is of twelve months.
- To apply for a certificate of legality, operators must submit a dossier to the MINFOF. If after examining the documentation the opinion is favourable, the MINFOF would issue a certificate of legality to the operator.
- A certificate of legality can be issued to operators certified by a recognized private certification scheme without any additional verification.
How does the VPA deal with the wood Cameroon imports?
The VPA timber legality assurance system applies to all sources of production or acquisition of timber and timber products in circulation in Cameroon, included timber imported into Cameroon.
- The VPA foresees that timber imported will continue to be imported subject to the conditions laid down in Cameroonian law. The legal requirements for import are reflected in the Annex II of the Agreement.
- Imported timber will be subject to the same verification and traceability requirements defined in the VPA timber legality assurance system. Decree nº 002 of 7 February 2013 to implement the computerised forest information management system (Système informatique de gestion des informations forestières or SIGIF) provides details about the management of imported timber.
- Timber imported from neighbouring countries, in particular from CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States), will have to be declared in the SIGIF by its exporters before the consignments reach Cameroon. Imported timber will be stamped upon entry with specific bar-codes to ensure it can be traced along the supply chain. Cameroon currently only imports timber from CEMAC countries.
- Only registered importers (traders) and processing operators can import timber and/or timber products into Cameroon. They must hold a waybill (« lettre de voiture ») labelled CEMAC. CEMAC waybills issued by the SIGIF are controlled at Cameroonian border checkpoints.
- The operators must complete a declaration to provide information such as import licences issued by the relevant competent authorities of the timber’s country of origin, international waybills stamped for the entire route, certificates of origin and phytosanitary certificates from the exporting country, and (when available) FLEGT licences of the country of origin or any other private certificate of legality/sustainable management recognised by Cameroon.
- Timber imported into Cameroon will only receive a FLEGT licence if the exporter to Cameroon holds, further to all the above mentioned documents, a FLEGT licence from their country of origin or a private certificate recognized by Cameroon’s Government as meeting as a minimum the criteria required in the VPA legality standard. Only under such circumstances can FLEGT licences be issued for consignments to be exported to the EU.
How does the VPA deal with timber in transit in Cameroon?
The VPA timber legality assurance system applies to all sources of timber and timber products produced, acquired and/or in circulation in Cameroon. This includes wood in transit into Cameroon.
- Timber in transit through Cameroon will have to be declared in the computerised forest information management system (Système informatique de gestion des informations forestières, or SIGIF) by its exporters before the consignments reach Cameroon.
- The monitoring procedures for timber in transit and the information necessary in order to confirm that the timber in question is in transit are defined in Decree nº 002 of 7 February 2013.
- Timber that transits through Cameroon from neighbouring CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States) countries must be declared in the SIGIF by its exporters before the consignments reach Cameroon. Timber in transit will be stamped upon entry with specific bar-codes to ensure it can be traced along the supply chain. All current timber in transit through Cameroon originates from CEMAC countries.
- The Cameroonian customs IT system (SYDONIA) records exports of timber in transit. This system communicates information on exports in real-time to the SIGIF.
Do companies that hold voluntary certiﬁcation (such as FSC or PEFC) also have to follow the VPA timber legality assurance system?
Yes. Operators that hold voluntary certification will be subject to the same requirements as non-certified operators. All exporters need to get FLEGT licences to export timber products.
- To avoid duplication of effort, companies holding private certificates attesting to sustainable forest management or legal compliance can receive the certificate of legality without further verification by the government.
- Before a company holding a private certificate can receive the certificate of legality, the certifying body awarding the voluntary certificate must be approved by the government of Cameroon. The private certifying organisation must submit an application to the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF). If the evaluation shows that the scheme meets the obligations set out in the legality standard of the VPA legality assurance system and integrates a credible independent audit as part of the scheme, the certifying body will be approved by the Cameroonian government. The evaluation report will be made public.
- Once a private certification scheme is recognised, companies can present a certified copy of their private certificates to the MINFOF to receive a one year, renewable certificate of legality.
- For reference, the latest version of the FSC national standard approved in April 2012 reflects all the criteria included in the legality definition of Cameroon’s VPA. There are 12 wood processing operations which are certified at the level of their chain of custody and 940,945 hectares of forest certified under 4 FSC certificates.
What does it mean that voluntary certificates can be approved by the VPA timber legality assurance system?
To avoid duplication of effort, the VPA legality assurance system allows private certifying organisations and private auditors to be approved by the Cameroonian government in the framework of the FLEGT licensing system. Once approved, companies holding private certificates awarded by an approved certifying body can apply to receive certificates of legality without further verification by the government.
Until Cameroon issues FLEGT licences, what requirements must its timber meet to enter the European market?
Under the Cameroonian-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), Cameroon and the EU have agreed on a series of measures to reinforce the verification and controls of the Cameroonian timber legality assurance system. FLEGT licences are the only document that automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR).
Until the start of FLEGT licensing, Cameroonian products that are exported to the EU will have to go through the normal due diligence process under the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which requires EU companies placing timber on the European market to assess and mitigate the risk of illegal timber entering their supply chain. Once FLEGT licensing starts, FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the EUTR requirements, meaning that no due diligence is required.
EU authorities have imposed sanctions to EU importers of timber from Cameroon. What is Cameroon doing to prevent future shipments of illegally harvested timber and how is the VPA helping?
On 9 March 2016, the Netherlands imposed administrative sanctions on the Dutch company Fibois B.V. for importing Cameroonian timber in violation of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR). The sanctions followed an investigation by Greenpeace into the Cameroonian timber trader CCT, from which Fibois BV sourced its timber. The company was also instructed by Dutch regulators to stop placing wood from CCT on the Dutch market or face a financial penalty. In addition, the company file has been presented to the Dutch criminal prosecutors with a view to a criminal case being filed on the basis of the CCT timber which has already sold. Fibois B.V. is appealing the case and legal proceedings are ongoing.
The United Kingdom (UK) has also taken action against 14 UK importers sourcing timber from Cameroon. The companies have been subject to administrative sanctions, and will face financial penalties if they have not met due diligence requirements next time they are checked. Each of them has also been placed on a risk register and future imports from Cameroon by those companies will be subject to additional scrutiny.
Although the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) timber legality assurance system is not yet operational, the measures taken under the VPA are helping operators placing timber in the European market in a variety of ways:
- The Cameroon-EU VPA legality standard defines the legal obligations in relation to timber harvesting, processing and trade, bringing clarity to European operators on what is required to meet Cameroonian law. To support the implementation of the timber legality assurance system, manuals of procedures have been developed for operators and forest controllers. In this way, the VPA is making it easier for operators to understand the scope of the law and what evidence of compliance is necessary in order to meet due diligence requirements.
- As the VPA timber legality assurance system is set up, Cameroon is slowly establishing measures to reinforce the verification and controls of forest sector operations. Until FLEGT licensing begins, these new measures can help Cameroonian operators exercise due diligence. Certificates of legality for forest operators or the recognition of private certificates of legality and sustainability are two examples.
- The VPA also offers a political avenue to raise concerns over the export of Cameroonian timber into Europe. In the specific case of the sanctions against Fibois B.V., the VPA’s Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) and Council have followed closely the sanctions and ongoing criminal case. The Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) sent a note in April 2016 to inform Cameroonian operators of the EUTR requirements on companies placing timber in the European market. To follow up concerns on the operations by CCT, the Cameroonian timber trader from which Fibois B.V. had sourced its timber, the MINFOF undertook an audit of CCT in mid-2016.
- Once the VPA legality assurance system is operational, a FLEGT licence will attest to the legality of Cameroonian timber and timber products. FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the EUTR requirements, meaning that no further due diligence is required.
How is the EU Timber Regulation affecting Cameroon timber trade with the EU?
Analysis of Eurostat data by US research institute Forest Trends shows that timber imports from Cameroon have dropped in a number of EU countries that have relatively well-resourced EUTR enforcement agencies. Reduction of imports of around 40% can be observed in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Bulgaria. By contrast there have been increases in imports from Cameroon to Belgium, Spain, Italy, Estonia, Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Malta.
Forest Trends estimates that there is a two year time lag between enforcement activity in Europe and changes in importer behaviour being identifiable in international trade data, and that it is likely that the downward trend will continue given the recent cases against importers of timber from Cameroon.
Once the Cameroon-EU VPA is operational, Cameroonian timber and timber products exported to Europe will be accompanied by a FLEGT licence. FLEGT licensed timber meets the due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) directly and operators in the EU will not need to exercise further due diligence.
Part Three: How to recognise legal timber products from Cameroon
What is a FLEGT licence?
A FLEGT licence is a licence issued by a timber-producing country that has a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the European Union. The licence attests to the legality of the timber or timber products.
When the timber legality assurance system is fully working as described in the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), Cameroon will issue FLEGT licences for timber bound for the EU. See Annex V of the VPA to see the format of the FLEGT licence.
What is the difference between a certificate of legality and a FLEGT licence?
A certificate of legality is mandatory for forest sectors operators in Cameroon and attests that the operator harvesting, transporting, transforming or trading timber and timber products in Cameroon is in compliance with the law. A FLEGT licence attests that forest operators and the chain of custody of the timber and timber products exported to Europe have followed the legal requirements as described in the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).
Is a certificate of legality enough to prove the legality of timber from Cameroon?
No. Under Cameroonian law, certificates of legality constitute proof that the operator holding the certificate conducts their activities in accordance with Cameroonian law. The certificates of legality do not, however, attest to the legality of the supply chain for the timber or timber products.
Without a working timber legality assurance system, such as the timber legality assurance system agreed in the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), a certificate of legality cannot prove the legality of the timber or timber products. Until the start of FLEGT licensing, Cameroonian products that are exported to the EU will have to go through the normal due diligence process under the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR). Once FLEGT licensing starts, FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the EUTR requirements, meaning that no due diligence will be required.
Cameroon is almost ready to issue certificates of legality and export licences. How do these relate to FLEGT licences? Are FLEGT licences better?
Under the Cameroonian-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), Cameroon and the EU have agreed on a series of measures to reinforce the verification and controls of the Cameroonian timber legality assurance system. This aspect of VPA implementation is ongoing and, as yet, FLEGT licensing has not, begun. FLEGT licences are the only document that automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR).
Under Cameroonian law, export licences constitute a proof of legality for Cameroonian timber products. Without a working VPA timber legality assurance system underpinning an export licence, however, a Cameroonian export licence is not recognised in the EU as proof of the legality of the timber or timber products. Until the start of FLEGT licensing, Cameroonian products that are exported to the EU will have to go through the normal due diligence process as required by the EUTR.
Certificates of legality are one of the requirements needed for FLEGT licences to be delivered. Once the VPA legality assurance system is operational, certificates of legality will constitute a proof that the forest operator is exercising its activities following the law. Alone, certificates of legality do not constitute a proof of legality of the timber being harvested, traded, processed or exported by an operator.
A FLEGT licence will attest to the legality of Cameroonian timber and timber products. When the VPA legality assurance system is operational, verified legal products of types listed in Annex I of the VPA and exported to Europe will receive a FLEGT licence. FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the EUTR requirements, meaning that no due diligence is required.
The VPA timber legality assurance system applies to all Cameroonian operators and timber products, but FLEGT licences will only be given to exports destined to the European market. Once FLEGT licensing starts, Cameroon will continue to issue export licences for exports to non-EU markets for the products covered in the VPA. Those products will have followed the same quality standards that timber holding a FLEGT licence.
What is the link between FLEGT licensing and CITES in Cameroon?
Once the VPA legality assurance system is operational, exports of products from species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to Europe will need both CITES documentation and a FLEGT licence. This requirement is covered by the VPA legality standards, except in the case of round logs of species included under annex I-B as Cameroon prohibits exports of such products so they can never have CITES documentation nor be FLEGT licensed.
The FLEGT Regulation and the Cameroon-EU VPA state that timber products subject to the CITES will not undergo the procedure described for the FLEGT-licensed products at the EU border. Therefore it is possible that some CITES timber shipments are accompanied by both a CITES import permit (annexes A and B) or a CITES import notification (annex C) and a FLEGT licence.
How will FLEGT licences be issued?
The licensing authority will issue FLEGT licences to accompany consignments of verified legal timber that registered operators wish to export to the EU.
FLEGT licences are issued at the point at which the consignment is consolidated prior to export. What follows is a summary of the procedure. For full details, consult Annex V of the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) and Decree nº 003 of 7 February 2013 regulating the procedure for issuing FLEGT licences.
To obtain a FLEGT licence, the exporter applies to the licensing authority via a private access account within the computerised forest information management system (Système informatique de gestion des informations forestières or SIGIF). Prior to applying for a FLEGT licence, the exporter or its representative should apply for a certificate of compliance with the law of the products to be exported:
- The products included in an application for a certificate of compliance must be previously recorded for the exporter within the SIGIF on a bill of lading. The bill of lading will only be registered if all the products are in conformity with the SIGIF’s secure supply chain. Registering a bill of lading is subject to restrictions to quotas of export for logs.
- Once the timber products to be exported are registered in the bill of lading, the exporter or its representative can apply online, via a private SIGIF identification number, for a certificate of compliance for the products to be exported.
- The certificate of compliance of the timber or timber products is issued after the MINFOF has verified the conformity of the shipment with the legality and supply chain requirements.
- Once the shipment is definitive and registered by the maritime agency, the timber exporter can apply for a FLEGT licence. The application, which is also done via the private SIGIF identification number, should include a copy of the maritime bill of lading and a copy of the export declaration attesting the payment of export taxes.
If the operator complies with legality and supply chain requirements, the licensing authority issues a FLEGT licence in the format presented in Annex V of the VPA.
- The VPA stipulates that MINFOF will appoint the FLEGT licence issuing authority. Eligible candidates for the role of FLEGT licensing authority include regional representatives, departmental representatives, or managers of MINFOF’s control and hunting posts. The licensing authority may also be located at the point of export (for example, at the port of Doula).
- For the licensing authority to issue a FLEGT licence, all forest operators in the supply chain of the exporter’s consignment must have been covered by a valid certificate of legality with no pending non-compliances.
- If an operator does not comply with the legality and supply chain requirements, the licensing authority will reject the request for a FLEGT licence.
- Products not destined to the EU do not need to apply for a FLEGT licence. Cameroon follows national legislation to issue export licences for exports to non-EU markets.
Who is the Licensing Authority?
The licensing authority has not yet been appointed. The Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) will host the licensing authority. To avoid conflict of interest, the MINFOF will ensure a clear separation between personnel with responsibilities for legality verification and for FLEGT licensing.
How can EU competent authorities access relevant information on the FLEGT licences they receive?
If specific questions arise, the EU competent authorities can contact the licensing authority in Cameroon directly.
Will Cameroonian port authorities stop a consignment from being exported if it has no FLEGT licence?
When FLEGT licensing starts, Cameroonian port authorities shall stop (at port) consignments from being exported to the EU if the products fall within the scope of the VPA and the consignment has no FLEGT licence. For other destinations, Cameroonian port authorities shall stop (at port) consignments that lack export licences.
How can an EU operator be sure a FLEGT licence is genuine? Will Cameroon check to ensure that its FLEGT licences are genuine? Could a licence be counterfeit?
It would be difficult to counterfeit a FLEGT licence, as a valid FLEGT licence can only be issued after the computerised forest information management system (Système informatique de gestion des informations forestières, or SIGIF II) operated by the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) attests the legal compliance of the timber or timber products. Reconciliation with the SIGIF would allow authorities to assess the validity and authenticity of a FLEGT licence.
Once an EU competent authority confirms it has received a FLEGT-licensed consignment, the SIGIF will automatically update the FLEGT licence’s record, ensuring that the same licence cannot be recorded again.
Cameroonian customs and local MINFOF staff at the point of export have access to the information hosted by the SIGIF, so they can check that a licence is valid and not a counterfeit. To be valid, all the information in the FLEGT licence must match the information recorded in the SIGIF system.
The requirements and technical specifications of the FLEGT licence are described in Annex V of the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).
The VPA timber legality assurance system also include safeguards such as an independent audit, which aim to detect any systemic failures and report them to the VPA joint monitoring committee (JMC). In Cameroon civil society also plays a crucial role in carrying out independent observation and informing the MINFOF’s National Forest Law Enforcement Brigade, the VPA independent auditor and the JMC about potential individual frauds and system loopholes.
Part Four: Outcomes of the VPA
How will the impacts of the VPA be monitored?
The EU and Cameroon made a joint commitment to monitor the social, economic and environmental effects of the agreement.
- VPA impact monitoring: In 2014, the VPA joint monitoring committee (JMC) established a multistakeholder working group to organise the work to develop a national VPA impact monitoring system. During 2016, different stakeholder groups in Cameroon discussed a list of areas and indicators to monitor. The proposal was based on initial inputs gathered in 2014 by civil society. Once stakeholders have reached a final agreement on the indicators, the system will be tested. The JMC will have to endorse the VPA impact monitoring system. Once operational the VPA impact monitoring system will inform the JMC about any possible adverse impacts where mitigation measures should be considered. A ‘Methodological guide for civil society for monitoring impacts of the Cameroonian VPA’, published in 2015, is available here.
- Independent Market Monitoring: The European Commission has appointed the International Tropical Timber Organization as the FLEGT Independent Market Monitor for all VPA countries. The market monitor will assess the trade in timber products between Cameroon and the EU, and the impacts of FLEGT licensing on this trade. A baseline report was published in 2015.
How does the VPA beneﬁt Cameroon?
The VPA is expected to bring economic, social and environmental benefits to Cameroon.
- The VPA will strengthen the market position of verified-legal timber products in the EU and elsewhere.
- FLEGT-licensed timber will automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation so will be exempt from any due diligence assessment process, saving time and money. This should increase EU importer confidence in Cameroonian timber products and make their products more attractive compared with equivalent products without FLEGT licences.
- The VPA will increase government revenues by blocking access to export and domestic markets for illegal operators who do not pay appropriate taxes and fees.
- The VPA will make it easier for Cameroon to manage forest resources in a sustainable way, notably through better monitoring and data.
- The VPA will help smallholders and small or medium enterprises to gain international market access.
- The VPA will raise the international profile of Cameroon as it will highlight Cameroon’s efforts to improve transparency and governance in one of its main economic sectors.
Does the Cameroon-EU VPA entail action to improve forest governance?
The VPA aims to improve accountability, transparency, participation, technical and human capacity, legislative clarity and other aspects of forest governance.
- Participatory decision-making: Representatives of civil society and the private sector participated alongside government representatives in the National Steering Committee and its five technical working groups. These stakeholders are also represented in the multistakeholder National Monitoring Committee (NMC) and are regularly invited to attend VPA Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) meetings. The VPA process 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.
- Capacity development to address illegal logging: The VPA process has strengthened the capacity of government, private sector and civil society stakeholders to work together to address illegality in Cameroon’s forest sector. The ministries responsible for forestry (MINFOF), environment (MINEPDED) and labour and social security (MINTSS) have built the capacity of staff in charge of forest law enforcement on issues related to VPA implementation. This has included training on the new penal code and on the new information and traceability tools, and the development of procedures to comply with VPA’s environmental and social obligations. Civil society organisations are paying particular attention to strengthening the capacity of local actors in independent monitoring. They are also making local communities aware of Cameroon’s VPA commitments.
- Transparency: The VPA includes an annex on public disclosure of information that lists the information the Cameroon government commits to making available. The Ministry of Forests (MINFOF) has developed a dedicated VPA website to publish information and in 2016 established procedures to manage and make public information relevant to the forest sector. Information now on the public domain includes, among others:
- The legal texts and procedures applicable to the forest sector
- Information on annual production
- The list of valid forest titles
- Environmental impact assessments
- Terms and conditions for forest operators
- Forest litigation cases
- Information on sanctions and on companies whose operations have been suspended
- Information on the payment of taxes
To facilitate the reading of the information available, the MINFOF, together with the FAO and CIFOR, published a baseline report on the ‘State of the Forest Sector in Cameroon (2015)’ in 2016.
- Corruption: The VPA Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) has followed closely Cameroonian initiatives to fight corruption in the forest sector, such as the Rapid Results Initiative (RRI), an initiative of the Cameroonian National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) to implement the 2011 national strategy to fight corruption. VPA annual reports have reported on developments on the RRI, including on corruption cases in the forest sector and on progress made to raise awareness in both the administration and the private sector. Local civil society organisations have been deeply engaged in the issue of transparency and the fight against corruption. In 2012, Forêts et Développement Rural (FODER) and MINFOF launched an initiative to increase transparency and fight corruption in the forest sector (Initiative pour la transparence et la lutte anti-corruption dans le secteur forestier au Cameroun - ITAC). This initiative has included trainings for administration and civil society to fight corruption and to improve forest governance. A web platform for reporting on corruption was set up in 2013.
- Legislation: The VPA process has made the law relating to Cameroon’s forest sector clearer. The VPA legality definition clarifies what operators in the timber sector must do to comply with the law and the indicators and verification measures auditors must use to assess legality. Clear legislation makes it easier for the police to enforce the law and for the justice system to prosecute illegal loggers.
How can the VPA address corruption?
The VPA has led improved transparency, accountability, legislative and institutional clarity and the capacity of civil society to hold government and the private sector to account. These all help to address corruption.
- Corruption is an offence in Cameroon regulated by Cameroonian law. The Ministries of Justice, the Audit Chamber, the judicial police, and ministerial units to fight against corruption all play key roles in preventing and suppressing corruption.
- The Cameroonian National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) coordinates Cameroonian efforts to fight corruption. This office lead on the elaboration of the current national strategy to fight corruption (Stratégie Nationale de Lutte contre la Corruption 2011 - SNLCC). Civil society and the private sector are key stakeholders to support the implementation of the national strategy.
- Within this context, the VPA is a tool that can support the implementation of the national strategy. To date, the VPA joint monitoring committee (JMC) has followed closely Cameroonian initiatives to fight corruption in the forest sector. For example, the CONAC’s Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) have been monitored and developments reported in VPA annual reports. Funding to support the implementation of the VPA has also provided support to the Ministry of Forests and to civil society to fight corruption. In 2012, Forêts et Développement Rural (FODER) and MINFOF launched an initiative to increase transparency and fight corruption in the forest sector (Initiative pour la transparence et la lutte anti-corruption dans le secteur forestier au Cameroun - ITAC). This initiative has included trainings for administration and civil society. A web platform for reporting on corruption was set up in 2013.
Is the VPA fair to small-scale operators in the sector?
The VPA process has opened up spaces for small-scale operators to participate in forest policy. It has also provided support to help small-scale operators comply with the new market requirements.
- Small and medium operators in Cameroon are working to comply to the legal framework and with the VPA. The VPA has strengthened the capacity of the small private sector. This has included trainings on market requirements and linking small operators from Cameroon with importers in Europe. See: Legal timber trade with EU can be big business for small companies.
- As well as needing to provide timber that is verified as legal, small and medium operators face additional challenges. The legal requirements for trade in timber and timber products are often a great burden for small operators. EU importers also demand large quantities of timber, which must be of high quality and delivered in a timely manner. Through the VPA, small and medium operators have established a timber trade federation that represents them and links them with EU importers.
How does the VPA protect community rights?
Civil society representatives actively engaged in negotiating the VPA and pushed for the recognition of community rights within the VPA. The result is a VPA with specific provisions to respect and protect the rights of communities. In addition, the VPA has opened up spaces for communities and civil society to work with the government of Cameroon to improve the recognition of community rights in Cameroonian laws and policies related to the forest sector.
- The Cameroon and EU commitment to protect and promote community rights is reflected in Article 17 of the VPA on social safeguards. This is a commitment by both parties to monitor the impacts of the VPA implementation in the long term including its impact on livelihoods and vulnerable groups.
- The VPA timber legality assurance system includes the obligation by operators to respect the payment of taxes and social agreements made with communities within its areas of work. That means that the 10% share of forest taxes (RFA) which was until recently dedicated to the communities can be sustained through improved collection of fiscal revenue. There is an ongoing discussion in Cameroon for the restoration of the 10% of forest taxes to local communities. In addition, the system contains special legality standards for timber from community forests (under State management). The VPA commits to develop an additional legality standard for communal forests and for community forests (without State management) during the operationalisation of the system.
- During VPA negotiations, insufficiencies in Cameroonian law around the rights of communities and indigenous peoples came to light and Cameroon responded by outlining a reform process in the VPA to address them. Cameroon is currently revising its Forest Law.
Video: The director of the Cameroonian NGO APED explains that FLEGT is an opportunity to challenge and question the government about taking community rights into account.
- Communities were not directly represented during VPA negotiations, but a commitment was made to involve them during the implementation of the agreement. The national monitoring committee (NMC), central to the implementation of the VPA, has one seat each for NGOs, local communities, indigenous peoples and representatives of communal forests. Representatives of civil society and communities have also been regularly invited to attend the VPA joint monitoring committee (JMC) meetings.
- A recent assessment of voluntary certification in VPA countries seems to indicate that certified companies have established dynamic relations and regular contact with local communities. Similar positive results have not been reported in the context of the VPA because the implementation of the VPA is still ongoing.
How does the VPA deal with the rights of indigenous peoples?
The Cameroon – EU VPA mentions the rights of indigenous peoples and takes specific measures to protect them.
- The preamble to the VPA refers to the vital role of indigenous peoples and other local communities in environmental management and development.
- Under the VPA timber legality assurance system, operators are required to pay taxes to and to respect the agreements made with communities, including indigenous peoples, within its areas of work. That means that the 10% share of forest taxes (RFA) which was until recently dedicated to the communities can be sustained through improved collection of fiscal revenue. There is an ongoing discussion in Cameroon for the restoration of the 10% of forest taxes to local communities.
- During VPA negotiations, insufficiencies in Cameroonian law around the rights of indigenous peoples came to light and Cameroon responded by outlining a reform process in the VPA to cover. Cameroon is currently revising its Forest Law.
- The Cameroon government’s commitment to protect indigenous peoples is also reflected in Article 17 of the VPA on social safeguards. This is a commitment by both parties to monitor the impacts of the VPA implementation in the long term including its impact on indigenous peoples, in order to mitigate any potential adverse effect.
- In addition, the VPA has opened up spaces for participation for indigenous peoples. The national monitoring committee (NMC), central to the implementation of the VPA, has one seat for indigenous peoples. Representatives of indigenous peoples have also been regularly invited to attend the VPA joint monitoring committee (JMC) meetings.
How does the VPA address timber produced from the conversion of forests to other land uses, such as for agriculture?
The VPA timber legality assurance system is intended to ensure that all timber and timber products can be traded nationwide or exported only if they have met legal obligations. The VPA joint monitoring committee (JMC) is tasked with ensuring that the VPA timber legality assurance system remains credible. In this context, the challenges posed by timber from forest conversion is an issue that the JMC monitors.
- The VPA timber legality assurance system does not address the land allocation process or decisions to declassify permanent forest areas or allocate forest for other purposes. Such decisions are made prior to the granting of timber permits.
- However, the timber legality assurance system does regulate the right to use timber originating from forest conversion, as the system covers all timber permits that exist in Cameroon.
- The VPA also includes a provision to monitor the use of permits – such as salvage licences and cut-timber timbers — in relation to timber from forest conversion areas. This information would allow the Joint Monitoring Committee to follow any possible abuses.
- During VPA negotiations, Cameroonian stakeholders did not foresee timber from forest conversion to be a major challenge. Unease over land speculation and land grabbing grew, however, after the VPA entered into force. To respond to concerns, the joint monitoring committee (JMC) set up a joint multistakeholder working group in 2014 to explore possible risks to the VPA posed by conversion timber. The working group was also tasked to reflect on possible solutions, including the review of the procedure for the allocation of salvage permits representing a substantial share of conversion projects in Cameroon. The outcome of the working group had limited impact on the challenges posed by conversion.
- VPA-related funding is supporting civil society actions to monitor forest conversion and its effects. Among the initiatives is the observatory of forest land conversion in Cameroon (OBSTER) set up by the Centre pour l’environnement et le developpement (CED). This initiative brings together data on the different land uses and provides a framework for analysing potential threats to forests and village lands.
- Other initiatives or processes in Cameroon, such as REDD+, address more specifically the issue of deforestation and forest conversion. For example, a multistakeholder coalition has developed a Common Mapping Platform that enables stakeholders to access social, environmental and geographical data for making informed land-use planning decisions in Cameroon.
- Further to the specific discussions on conversion, civil society stakeholders have raised concerns that the revision of the Forest Law (foreseen in the VPA) could facilitate decisions to reallocate permanent forest land to alternative land uses. Civil society actors in Cameroon and in Europe have also demanded that the EU and Cameroon have a franker dialogue about conversion, involving as well other key countries such as China.
How has the VPA responded to the claims around the Herakles Farms (SGSOC) concession and what were the outcomes?
The VPA has offered a political avenue for stakeholders to raise concerns over illegalities linked to the oil palm plantation project of the US investment firm Herakles Farms (SGSOC). This case has also helped highlight and understand credibility issues that conversion timber poses for the VPA.
- The VPA joint monitoring committee (JMC) and Council have followed closely the actions of Herakles Farms. Cameroon and the EU shared key information on this project, including the presidential decrees n°416, 417 and 418 of 25 November 2013 on the attribution of the provisory agricultural lease to Herakles Farms (SGSOC).
- The parties first discussed the problems linked to the company Herakles Farms (SGSOC) during the meeting of the 3rd VPA Council (July 2013), in which Cameroun announced that the initial allotment of 73,000 ha (awarded incorrectly) had been reduced to 20,000 ha in a less contentious area. In the 5th JMC (Dec 2013), the Cameroon administration recognised the key role played by civil society in the redefinition of the Herakles Farms project.
- Herakles Farms abandoned operations on 29 May 2015 and closed its offices. After the withdrawal of the US based firm, SGSOC continued to operate the 20,000 ha palm oil plantation. SGSOC’s land lease was granted for three years, and runs until November 2016.
EU reactions to the challenges highlighted by the Herakles Farms (SGSOC) case:
- In reaction to this case, the EU launched in March 2016 a call for proposals to support responsible governance of land tenure through promoting the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT). With this programme the EU seeks to support Cameroonian stakeholders to address the challenges of land use planning and land governance in respect of community rights.
- The Herakles Farms (SGSOC) case highlighted the security challenges for individuals and communities affected by projects that they oppose. Nasako Besingi, a local community leader winner of several international awards for his peaceful protests against the Herakles Farms (SGSOC) palm oil project, was sued by the company and convicted for defamation and propagation of false publications. This case was brought by civil society organisations in the VPA process. The need to improve the protection of human and environmental rights defenders such as Nasako motivated the EU to fund a three years project ‘Verdir le respect des droits de l’Homme dans le Bassin du Congo’ (Greening the respect for human rights in the Congo Basin). This project provides support, including legal assistance, to human rights defenders in the Congo Basin, including Cameroon.
Part Five: Ensuring effective VPA implementation
What if problems emerge? Who has oversight of the VPA?
Two joint (EU-Cameroon) structures oversee implementation of the VPA and will respond to any concerns about problems in implementation as they arise: the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) and the Joint Implementation Council. In other VPAs. In other VPAs, a single Joint Implementation Committee serves the functions of these two structures. Implementation therefore improves as it proceeds. See Article 19 and Annex XI of the VPA.
- The VPA gives independent observers, civil society organisations and any interested stakeholder the space to provide information to the independent auditor if the timber legality assurance system is not working as foreseen or if companies do not comply with the Cameroonian legality standard. Complaints can also be put on the agenda of the JMC.
- The independent auditor in the Cameroon-EU VPA will regularly assess whether the timber legality assurance system functions as described in the VPA and will report to the Joint Implementation Council via a report to the JMC. See Annex VI of the VPA.
How does the VPA address grievances?
The VPA includes a mechanism to resolve grievances. Under the agreement, stakeholders can raise issues with the Cameroon-EU Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) through the independent auditor or by putting matters of concern on the agenda for JMC meetings. See Annex XI.c of the VPA.
Who is the independent auditor?
The independent auditor is an organisation (with auditing qualifications following ISO rules) whose role is to regularly assess whether the timber legality assurance system functions as described in the VPA. The independent auditor reports findings to the Cameroon-EU Joint Implementation Council via a report submitted to the VPA Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC). A public summary of the reports will be made available.
- An annex in the VPA describes the status, skills and tasks of the independent auditor. The team assigned to carry out the independent audit shall not be directly engaged in the implementation of the VPA timber legality assurance system and shall demonstrate auditing experience. See Annex VI of the VPA.
- In 2012, Cameroon recruited an independent auditor in consultation with the EU. An independent auditor was in place between 2013-2014.
- Due to the VPA’s timber legality assurance system not being in place during its first period of activity, the independent auditor did not carry out any audit of the system. Its activities focused on strengthening the implementation of the legality assurance system before the issue of the first FLEGT licences. During 2013-2014, the independent auditor developed audit procedures, assessed the conformity of documents related to the allocation of forest titles (required as verifiers by the VPA’s legality grid) and made an assessment of procedures and volume of confiscated timber in Cameroon. These three tasks were foreseen under the terms of the VPA.
- The independent auditor shared its findings with the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC). In 2014, the JMC set up a multistakeholder working group to propose measures to ensure the compliance of existing forest titles with the VPA. Among the actions to be taken, Cameroon and the EU foresee work to review the legality grids to assess whether amendments are necessary. Until decisions are taken, Cameroon has decided to delay the issuing of certificates of legality, a procedure foreseen in the VPA that was underway.
- The parties will appoint a new auditor before FLEGT licences are issued. A new forest governance project under the 11th European Development Fund’s (EDF) National Indicative Programme (2014-2020) for cooperation between Cameroon and the EU includes a financial provision for an independent auditor.
Are the results of the independent audits available?
Yes, they will be. Once independent audits start, public summaries of the reports will be available on the VPA website of the Cameroonian Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF).
What has been the result of the audits carried out by the independent auditor and what where the outcomes?
The VPA independent auditor in place between 2013-2014 assessed the conformity of documents related to the allocation of forest titles and made an inventory of confiscated timber in Cameroon. As the VPA’s timber legality assurance system was not in operation during the period of activity of the independent auditor, no audit of the system was carried out.
- The audit on the existence, availability and reliability of documents related to the allocation of forest titles (required as verifiers by the VPA’s legality grid) highlighted the failure of the Cameroonian government to systematically file documents required to verify legal compliance.
- The VPA Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) set up a multistakeholder working group in 2014 to propose measures to ensure the compliance of existing forest titles with the VPA. Among the actions to be taken, Cameroon and the EU foresee work to review the legality grids to assess whether amendments are necessary.
- Until decisions are taken, Cameroon has decided to delay the issuing of certificates of legality, a procedure foreseen in the VPA that was underway, for forest operators affected by the findings of the independent auditor.
- The assessment of seized timber by the independent auditor has demonstrated that the implementation of MINFOF procedures for seizure, auctioning and release of seized timber is not aligned across the different regions. This leads to significant opacity on the documentation of the related timber flows.
What is the role of independent observers in the VPA?
During the VPA negotiations, Cameroonian stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society decided that independent observation has a role to play to monitor forest governance in the context of the VPA, but that it should not be a compulsory part of the legality assurance system.
- The Cameroon-EU VPA does not include independent observation as a role of the timber legality assurance system, but notes that independent observation by civil society is a source of information for forestry control and compliance with legality to be used within the VPA system, for example by the independent auditor.
- Cameroon is the country with longest experience in independent observation. Formal independent observers were active in Cameroon between 2000-2013. A new forest governance project under the 11th European Development Fund’s (EDF) National Indicative Programme (2014-2020) for cooperation between Cameroon and the EU includes a financial provision for an independent observer.
- Cameroonian civil society has carried out independent observation activities for more than two decades. Independent observation by civil society grew considerable from 2010, partly as a result to the ratification of the VPA and support projects to operationalise the commitments in the agreement.
- In 2014, national civil society set up a network of independent observers, the standarised system for external independent observation (Système Normalisé d’Observation Indépendante Externe, SNOIE), to provides information to the competent administrations in charge of forest controls. The purpose of the SNOIE is to formalise the framework of work of external independent observation by civil society and turn it into a more reliable and credible mechanism. The VPA Joint Implementation Council, in its meeting of 15 December 2015, recognised the role of civil society independent observation in the implementation of the Cameroonian National Forest and Wildlife Law Enforcement Strategy. See meeting minutes here.
What complaints have independent observers made and what were the outcomes?
After more than a decade of formal independent observation, since 2014 national civil society is organised in a network of independent observers. The Système Normalisé d’Observation Indépendante Externe (SNOIE) provides information to the competent administrations in charge of forest controls.
- In early 2016, the reports of the network of independent observers allowed the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) to take sanctions against two companies operating illegally in the Cameroonian East and Littoral regions.
- In the first quarter of 2016, the MINFOF suspended the licences of four logging companies (SITAF, SCDC, South & FILS and SOFIE), issued 34 other companies with warning notices and generated 54.2 million FCFA (82.6 million euros) in fines related to illegal activities in the forest sector. These sanctions follow a mission of the Cameroonian National Forest Law Enforcement Brigade following civil society findings based on independent observation. Cameroon committed to the publication of such information in the VPA. The quarterly register presents information on cases of illegality in the forest sector and on sanctions imposed against companies.
What will happen to FLEGT licensed timber that is shown to be illegal?
If a FLEGT-licensed shipment is reported to be illegal in Cameroon before it leaves the country, the Cameroonian licensing authority shall cancel the licence and prevent the corresponding shipment from leaving the country.
- If a FLEGT-licensed shipment is proven to be illegal in Cameroon after it leaves the country, the licensing authority would inform the relevant EU competent authority. If the licensing authority can contact the EU competent authority before the shipment is released by customs in the EU, the shipment would be seized and would not be placed on the EU market.
- Enforcement actions would be taken against the companies involved in the production and trade of the related timber in Cameroon. Authorities in the EU may also take action against the importer(s).
- If the licensing authority can only contact the relevant EU competent authority after the FLEGT licensed timber has been released by customs in the EU, the competent authority would investigate and when non-compliance is confirmed, Cameroon and the relevant EU member state may take enforcement actions against implicated companies, including prosecution and timber seizure.
What happens when the legality assurance system fails to detect illegal timber?
If and when illegal timber is shown to have passed through Cameroon’s timber legality assurance system undetected, this will provide opportunities to strengthen the system to avoid a reoccurrence of the breach.
- The VPA is part of a holistic yet gradual improvement of forest governance in Cameroon.
- The VPA will not eliminate illegal logging overnight.
- The timber legality assurance system is adaptive and subject to continuous improvement, informed by regular reports from internal controls and evaluations, independent observers and the VPA independent audit.
- The VPA Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) and the Joint Implementation Council oversee the agreement and will take remedial actions if systematic failures are identified.