Q&A

Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement

This page provides answers to some common questions about the Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement, FLEGT licensing and Ghana’s timber legality assurance system.

Part One: Background and basics

What is the Ghana-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 Ghana to the EU.

  • Under the agreement 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 Ghana’s exports of verified legal timber products to the EU.
  • Ghana will then only export FLEGT-licensed timber products to the EU. The EU will only allow Ghanaian timber exports to enter the EU if they are accompanied by a valid FLEGT licence.
  • FLEGT-licensed timber automatically meets 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 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.
  • VPAs are among the key tools of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Government and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan of 2003. Five other countries are also implementing VPAs they have agreed with the EU. 

Is the Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) available to read online?

Yes. You can read the VPA and its annexes here

How does the VPA benefit Ghana?

The VPA has improved transparency, human and technical capacity, forest management, accountability, bureaucratic efficiencies, institutional collaboration, stakeholder participation and other aspects of good forest governance. When fully implemented, the VPA should bring further economic, social and environmental benefits to Ghana.

  • The VPA should strengthen the market position of Ghana’s 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 Ghana’s timber products and make their products more attractive than 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 Ghana 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 market access.
  • The VPA will raise the international profile of Ghana as it will highlight Ghana’s efforts to improve transparency and governance in one of its main economic sectors.

What is the current status of the VPA and future prospects?

The VPA has already transformed Ghana’s forestry industry.

  • A new online wood tracking system (WTS) is being rolled out to replace the Ghanaian Forestry Commission’s paper-based system. The WTS is a key part of Ghana’s VPA timber legality assurance system, which has already enhanced the Forestry Commission’s capacity to enforce regulations, detect and correct problems and manage forests sustainably.
  • When a Ghana-EU joint evaluation concludes that the timber legality assurance system has met the requirements outlined in the VPA, the Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism can propose that Ghana begins to issue FLEGT licences to verified legal timber products it exports to the EU.
  • Once FLEGT licensing begins, all Ghanaian timber-based products listed in Annex I of the VPA and exported to the EU must be accompanied by a valid FLEGT licence. EU customs officials will deny entry to any products covered by the VPA that arrive without a valid FLEGT licence.

How useful is the VPA, given that a significant portion of Ghana’s timber products go to markets other than the EU?

Ghana’s VPA covers exports to all export markets, as well as the domestic market. This means Ghana will verify the legality of all the timber and timber products listed in the VPA, regardless of where they are going.

  • Ghana requested that the VPA apply to all exports, not only those bound for the EU.
  • Regional demand for wood is increasing and fuels the informal market where illegality is common. The VPA will help isolate this trade to better address such illegalities.
  • 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.
  • Other markets have implemented or are designing measures to eradicate illegal timber from their imports. These markets include the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
  • China is the world’s largest importer of tropical timber, and the world’s largest market for illegal wood. China 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).

How does the VPA address the domestic market, which is a major driver of illegality in Ghana’s forest sector?

Although VPAs are primarily concerned with international trade, one of the main reasons Ghana chose to pursue a VPA was to address illegal logging that serves domestic, often informal, markets. There was strong consensus from stakeholders in Ghana that it would be critical to include the production of timber for the domestic market in a VPA agreement. This move led the way for other countries to include domestic markets in their VPAs.

  • Ghana’s domestic market for timber is bigger than its export market. Before the VPA process began, stakeholders from government, civil society and the private sector shared the view that a VPA must help Ghana to address illegality in the domestic market.
  • As a result of the VPA, the government and a dialogue platform convened by a nongovernmental organisation have developed and agreed policies to address illegal logging in the domestic market. Initiatives such as the EU Chain Saw Project and others have tried to provide both policy and technical solutions to the problem of the domestic market.
  • Chainsaw loggers and lumber traders formed a union – DOLTA - that engaged with the VPA process to press for reforms to decriminalise its members and bring them into the formal economy. Ghana’s Timber Industry Development Division has partnered with associations such as DOLTA to encourage legal trade. This is a first step in helping to formalise the different groups, and to do this jointly with private sector
  • Ghana is also the first African country to develop a public procurement policy to ensure government funded projects use only legal timber.
  • Recent research by Tropenbos International indicates that regional markets are now taking more illegally felled timber from Ghana than domestic markets are.

How can the VPA address corruption?

The VPA has led to improved transparency, accountability, institutional clarity and the capacity of civil society to hold government and the private sector to account. Ghana has created an internal auditing system to ensure government forestry agents are doing their jobs. This has led to some increased efficiencies, clarity on the ground and reduced opportunities for corrupt practices.

How does the VPA protect community rights?

The VPA process showed that social responsibility agreements, important documents to reinforce community rights, were not well enforced. Therefore, compliance was weak. As a result, representatives of government and civil society developed a checklist to improve compliance and enforcement. This checklist is now part of the government’s control procedures.

As part of the social responsibility agreement that is signed between the company and the local communities, it is agreed that no timber harvesting or forest operations can take place on days designated as ‘taboo days’ (when, traditionally, entry into the forest is forbidden).

In the forest management plan, areas of particular cultural significance, such as ‘sacred groves’ are clearly delineated and no harvesting is allowed in these areas.

Part Two: The VPA process

How was the Ghana-EU VPA negotiated?

Ghana and the EU negotiated the VPA through a process that involved input from stakeholders representing the Ghanaian 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 Ghana’s behalf.

  • While the VPA was negotiated between Ghana and the EU, much of its content was negotiated among stakeholders within Ghana before being discussed in the bilateral negotiations.
  • Negotiations began in 2007 and concluded in 2008. The VPA entered into force in 2009. Since then the EU and Ghana have been implementing the VPA.

Which Ghanaian stakeholders and institutions have played roles in the VPA’s negotiation and implementation?

The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources leads on behalf of the Government of Ghana in the VPA process, with the Forestry Commission being the main implementing agency.

  • During VPA negotiations, from the Government side, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the Ministry of Trade, Customs, the Attorney General’s office, and representatives of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Forestry were also part of a multi-stakeholder steering committee that was established to oversee preparations for negotiations.
  • Civil society were also represented on this steering committee by two representatives. One representative was elected by the membership of Forest Watch Ghana, which is a coalition of over 30 NGOs working in the forest and environment sector in Ghana. The second representative was elected to represent research and academic institutions, the media and traditional authorities. From the private sector, representation in that committee was through the Ghana Timber Millers Organisation and the Ghana Timber Association.
  • For the bilateral negotiations with the EU, Ghana’s government invited the civil society and private sector representatives to join the negotiation sessions (held alternately in Accra and in Brussels) as observers.
  • In implementation, this multi-stakeholder approach still applies, although the representation from Government has now narrowed to the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the Forestry Commission and Customs. 

What roles have different stakeholders played in the VPA process?

  • The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources led VPA negotiations and now leads VPA implementation. It is responsible now for ensuring that the policy and legal reforms set out in the VPA are delivered.
  • The Forestry Commission has been responsible for leading on development of the legality assurance system and training its staff how to use it.
  • Civil society were instrumental in the drafting of the VPA annexes, particularly the annex that sets out the legality definition on which the timber legality assurance system is based. Civil society now provides oversight of the implementation of the agreement and is active in building the capacity of communities to carry out independent forest monitoring.
  • The private sector was active in the VPA negotiations and in implementation it has worked with the Forestry Commission to pilot test the new electronic wood tracking system, which has been developed as part of the legality assurance system for the VPA.

How do local NGOs engage with the VPA process?

Forest Watch Ghana is a coalition of over 30 Ghanaian NGOs working in the forest and environment sector had a representative on the steering committee that was set up to prepare for negotiations and they also had that same representative attend the negotiations as an observer.

  • NGOs were actively involved in the development of the VPA and its annexes; the legality definition annex in particular.
  • In implementation NGOs have helped to developed procedures for verifying compliance with the obligations to negotiate and implement social responsibility agreements and these procedures have now been incorporated into the procedures used by the Forestry Commission’s audit teams.
  • NGOs have also been able to use the VPA to secure their influence in the development of a new Forest and Wildlife Policy, and a new policy for the domestic market.
  • Through the REDD+ process in Ghana, although with FLEGT-funded project support, NGOs have also prepared a position paper to inform the development of a new policy on tree tenure 

Why has the VPA process taken so long?

Meaningful change takes time. The VPA process took 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. In any VPA process, that takes as long as it takes. It would be wrong to compare the pace of VPA implementation between countries.

  • Each VPA country has its own set of circumstances and its own VPA to implement. It takes time to transform a country’s forestry sector and to ensure that all stakeholders can participate in the process.
  • The pace is often determined by the speed with which stakeholders find solutions to technical and political challenges. The good news is that Ghana’s VPA implementation has accelerated. Ghana is now at an advanced stage of VPA implementation.
  • Although it has taken longer than expected for Ghana to deliver FLEGT-licensed timber, many other gains have resulted from the VPA process and its underlying national process already.
  • These benefits include improved transparency, human and technical capacity, accountability, stakeholder participation and other aspects of good forest governance.
  • The VPA process has involved an unprecedented level of stakeholder participation. 

What is the Multi-Stakeholder Implementation Committee?

Ghana has established a ‘Multi-Stakeholder Implementation Committee’ chaired by the Technical Director for Forestry from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. The committee has primary responsibility for overseeing the domestic implementation of the VPA and for preparing Ghana’s position in advance of meetings of the Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism. Other stakeholders represented on this committee include the Forestry Commission, Customs, the private sector and civil society. 

What is the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism?

Under the VPA, Ghana and the EU are committed to meeting at least once a year to review progress with VPA implementation. The joint body established for this purpose is called the ‘Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism’. It is co-chaired by the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources and the EU Ambassador. Summaries of these meetings are published and available on the website of the Ghana Forestry Commission.

In the periods between meetings of the JMRM, the FLEGT focal point from the Government of Ghana and the FLEGT focal point from the EU Delegation meet at the technical level to discuss progress towards agreed milestones and any challenges being experienced. An updated ‘action plan’ provides a framework for these discussions. 

How do the EU and Ghana make information about their formal meetings available?

Ghana and the EU publish summaries of meetings, called Records of Discussion, of the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM). The JMRM also publishes an annual report. All of these publications appear on the websites of the Ghana Forestry Commission, the EU Delegation in Accra and the EU FLEGT Facility.

Part Three: How Ghana verifies the legality of timber and timber products

What is the timber legality assurance system, or GhLAS?

Ghana’s timber legality assurance system, or GhLAS, 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. As in all VPAs, the timber legality assurance system has the five essential components listed below.

  • Legality definition: The legality definition in the VPA states the agreed-upon aspects of Ghanaian law that the timber legality assurance system evaluates compliance with for purposes of FLEGT licensing.
  • Supply chain control: The purpose is to ensure that timber products verified as legal are tracked throughout all processes associated with the supply chain and to prevent such verified products being mixed with unverified products entering the supply chain.
  • Verification of compliance: This means checking whether the requirements contained in the VPA legality definition and the supply chain controls have been met to ensure that timber products are legal.
  • FLEGT licensing: The FLEGT licensing authority will issue FLEGT licences for consignments of timber products, once the verification system has evidence consignments are legally compliant. The FLEGT licensing authority is the Timber Industry Development Division of Ghana’s Forestry Commission. Issuing of FLEGT licences cannot begin until a joint evaluation of the timber legality assurance system by Ghana and the EU confirms that the system is fully operational, as described in the VPA.
  • Independent monitoring: The purpose of independent monitoring is to regularly check that all aspects of a legality assurance system are working properly. An annex to the VPA provides terms of reference for the monitor. The monitor will produce reports for the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism and a public report. The independent monitor has already been contracted and started work on its first audit before licensing begins. In other VPAs, the independent monitoring function is called independent audit.

How does the timber legality assurance system work?

The timber legality assurance system has two main aspects. The first aspect involves checks to ensure that all aspects of timber production comply with the laws that make up the VPA’s legality definition. These are the laws stakeholders have agreed are the most important to control. They include aspects of law relating to company registration, labour, forest management plans and harvesting volumes, among others.

  • The VPA legality definition makes clear what operators in the timber sector must do to comply with the law and what indicators and verification measures auditors must use to assess legality. This makes it easier for the Forestry Commission and other regulatory bodies to enforce the law and for the justice system to prosecute illegal loggers.
  • The second aspect is a system for tracking timber from the point of harvest to the point of sale or export. Information is collected at a number of critical control points that ensure the wood in the supply chain is legal. Ghana has developed this wood tracking system and is rolling it out nationwide.
  • Information collected from the audits and controls on the legality definition and the wood tracking system will inform the FLEGT licensing authority (the Timber Industry Development Division) that the wood is legal and can receive a FLEGT licence.
  • Ghana has also set up a Timber Validation Department (TVD) to act as an ‘internal auditor’ within the Forestry Commission. A multistakeholder Timber Validation Committee oversees the work of the TVD.
  • The Forestry Commission is finalising verification protocols and the systems for issuing FLEGT licences.
  • The independent monitor, or independent auditor as referred to in other VPA countries, has been contracted to audit the entire system. 

What are the consequences of legality verification?

It is expected that the requirement to demonstrate compliance with the definition of legality that forms the basis of Ghana’s timber licensing system, will ensure that:

  • No logging takes place without prior consent of relevant individuals.
  • No damage is done to crops without payment of due compensation.
  • No timber company can get away with not meeting their Social Responsibility Agreement obligations to local communities.
  • All workers are provided with proper health and safety training, the necessary equipment, and are covered by appropriate workplace insurance.

Why are some products not included in the VPA?

During the VPA negotiations, Ghanaian stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society reached agreement on which types of timber products to include.

  • The product scope covered by the VPA includes all product types for which the EU Timber Regulation requires due diligence.
  • In addition, the VPA covers products that Ghanaian stakeholders have chosen to include.
  • Annex I of the VPA details the scopes of products covered by the VPA. You can view the annex here

Who are the FLEGT licensing authorities?

The Timber Industry Development Division of Ghana’s Forestry Commission is the FLEGT licensing authority.

What if problems emerge? Who has oversight of the VPA?

A Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM) oversees implementation of the VPA and will respond to any concerns about problems in implementation as they arise. Implementation therefore improves as it proceeds. The JMRM includes representatives of stakeholders from government, civil society and the private sector. The sector minister leads Ghana's delegation to the JMRM and the EU’s representation is led by the EU Ambassador to Ghana. Records of discussions are made public.

Ghana has also established a national Multi-Stakeholder Implementation Committee. This committee is chaired by a representative of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and members include representatives of several government ministries and agencies that have responsibilities for aspects of the VPA. Other members of the committee include a parliamentarian, a representative of traditional authority and representatives of civil society and the private sector. The VPA Secretariat in Ghana's Forestry Commission coordinates implementation activities.

  • The ‘independent monitor’ (termed ‘independent auditor’ in other VPAs), will regularly assess whether the timber legality assurance system functions as described in the VPA and will report to the Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism.
  • In addition, national nongovernmental organisations are monitoring VPA implementation and the forest sector in general.

What is the independent monitor?

  • The independent monitor is an auditor whose role is to regularly assess whether the timber legality assurance system functions as described in the VPA, and report findings to the Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism.
  • An annex in the VPA describes the status, skills and tasks of the independent monitor. You can view the annex here.
  • As agreed in the VPA, Ghana has recruited the independent monitor in consultation with the EU.

Do companies that hold voluntary certification (such as FSC or PEFC) also have to follow the GhLAS system?

Yes. Operators that hold voluntary certification will be subject to the same requirements as non-certified operators. All exporters will need FLEGT licences to export timber products.

What happens when the legality assurance system fails to detect illegal timber?

If and when illegal timber is shown to have passed through Ghana’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 Ghana.
  • 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 the independent monitor.

 

When will FLEGT licensing start?

The Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM) will recommend a date for FLEGT licensing to start based on progress made under the roadmap on VPA implementation. 

Part Four: Outcomes of the VPA

How has the Ghana-EU VPA improved forest governance?

The VPA has improved 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 in the negotiations and have seats in the national multistakeholder implementation committee and the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism. 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.
  • Enhanced capacity: The VPA process has strengthened the capacity of government, private sector and civil society stakeholders to work together to address illegality in Ghana’s forest sector. Capacity building activities have included training and/or recruitment to enable:
    • Forestry Commission staff to implement the timber legality assurance system’s verification and control functions
    • Civil society organisations to perform independent forest monitoring
    • Illegal chainsaw loggers to adopt artisanal milling procedures to supply the domestic market with legal timber
    • Identification of data management controls needed to make flows of information more resource and cost efficient
  • Transparency: Article 20 of the VPA, on reporting and public disclosure, states that the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM) shall record Ghana's efforts towards transparency. The article refers to transparency around harvest rights, areas designated for harvesting, harvesting schedules, timber rights' fees and harvest related payments, and information on social responsibility agreements and crop damage compensation awards. The VPA annex on the timber legality assurance system also identifies data that Ghana will make publicly available. Civil society organisations have also presented to the JMRM a list of information they would like to have in the public domain to assist them with forest monitoring.
  • Community empowerment: The VPA’s legality definition included various community rights, such as a right of veto over the allocation of harvesting rights; a right to compensation for crop damage caused by logging activities; and a role in the negotiation of Social Responsibility Agreements with logging companies, and assurances that these agreements will be implemented. The VPA has strengthened community rights, as timber and timber products must comply with all aspects of the VPA legality definition to receive a FLEGT licence.
  • Accountability: Ghana’s VPA has led the government to initiate internal audits to check forest authorities are performing controls as required by the legality assurance system. Through the VPA process, Ghana’s Forestry Commission set up a Timber Validation Department which audits district officers to ensure they have performed adequate controls.
  • Communication: Through the VPA, Ghana has improved communication with stakeholders, including be setting up a website to share information about the process, VPA annual reports, aide memoires and press releases also enhance public access to information. 

What broader impacts can be attributed to the VPA?

  • Domestic market measures: As a result of the VPA, the government and a dialogue platform convened by a nongovernmental organisation have developed and agreed policies to address illegal logging in the domestic market. Initiatives such as the EU Chain Saw Project and others have tried to provide both policy and technical solutions to the problem of the domestic market.
  • Formalisation: One reason Ghana entered into a VPA was to address illegal chainsaw logging and milling. Chainsaw loggers and lumber traders there formed a union – DOLTA - that engaged with the VPA process to press for reforms to decriminalise its members and bring them into the formal economy. Ghana’s Timber Industry Development Division has partnered with associations such as DOLTA to encourage legal trade. This is a first step in helping to formalise the different groups, and to do this jointly with private sector.
  • Public procurement policy: VPA discussions in Ghana helped stimulate the development of a public procurement policy for verified legal timber trade on the domestic market.
  • Improved control procedures: The VPA process showed that social responsibility agreements, important documents to reinforce community rights, were not well enforced. Therefore, compliance was weak. As a result, representatives of government and civil society developed a checklist to improve compliance and enforcement. This checklist is now part of the government’s control procedures.
  • Tree tenure policy: Through the legal reform agenda set out in the VPA, work is underway to develop a new policy on tree tenure. Having secure tenure over trees on farms will have a significant positive impact on communities as it will provide an incentive for planting more trees and protecting those that exist by incorporating them as shade trees in farming systems.

How will the impacts of the VPA be monitored?

The EU and Ghana made a joint commitment to monitor the social, economic and environmental effects of the agreement.

  • VPA impact monitoring: Ghana and the EU have formed a multistakeholder Joint Team on Impact monitoring (JTIM). This team has been tasked to identify key elements to monitor over time and to structure how such monitoring will be done. The JTIM reports to the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanisms with their findings for a decision to be taken to advance the process. As of late 2015, the team has identified three impact areas to monitor as well as three outcome areas. Ghana is currently identifying data sources to create a baseline and outlining procedures to regularly monitor these impact and outcome areas.
  • Independent Market Monitoring: The EC has appointed the International Tropical Timber Organization as independent market monitor for all VPA countries. The monitor will assess the trade in timber products between Indonesia and the EU, and the impacts of FLEGT licensing on this trade. The monitor will publish a baseline report in November 2015.