Media backgrounder

The Côte d’Ivoire-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement

This media backgrounder provides journalists with information on the Côte d’Ivoire-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement, which aims to address illegal logging, improve forest governance and promote trade in legal timber products. The backgrounder explains the aims of the VPA, progress to date and next steps.

Speed reading

  • Illegal logging creates social problems, environmental degradation and loss of economic opportunities.
  • In February 2013, Côte d’Ivoire and the EU began negotiating a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to promote trade in legal timber products and improve forest governance.
  • Under a VPA, Côte d’Ivoire would develop a timber legality assurance system so it can issue FLEGT licences to verified legal timber products.
  • Once Côte d’Ivoire begins FLEGT licensing, it will export to the EU only verified legal timber products accompanied by FLEGT licences.
  • FLEGT-licensed timber products from Côte d’Ivoire will be able to enter the EU market without undergoing the due diligence checks required by the EU Timber Regulation.
  • Existing initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire to trace and monitor the timber trade will form the basis of a timber legality assurance system that Côte d’Ivoire will develop under the VPA.
  • Côte d’Ivoire has already taken steps to implement legal and governance reforms identified by stakeholders through the VPA negotiation process.
  • Côte d’Ivoire has demonstrated significant achievements in ensuring that decisions related to the VPA are taken in a participatory way. Government, civil society, the private sector and traditional chiefs are working together to ensure the VPA is credible and has broad stakeholder support.

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Illegal logging and trade

Over the past 50 years, Côte d’Ivoire’s forest cover has shrunk from around 16 million hectares to less than two million hectares. Nevertheless, forests still make an important contribution to Côte d’Ivoire’s economy, and provide jobs and livelihoods for local people. In the past five decades, deforestation has been mainly driven by illegal conversion of forest to agriculture. Most industrial production of timber is destined for the export market.

The EU is the primary foreign market for Ivoirian timber products, accounting for about 50% of exports. The informal timber sector dominates the domestic market. Acknowledging the role of forests in maintaining healthy and productive ecosystems, Côte d’Ivoire aims to restore its national forest cover to 20% by 2045. Côte d’Ivoire aims to make use of trade leverage to achieve this ambition.

What is a VPA?

A Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is a legally binding trade agreement between the EU and a timber-exporting country outside the EU. A VPA aims to ensure that all timber and timber products destined for the EU market from a partner country comply with the laws of that country.

In addition to promoting trade in legal timber, VPAs address the causes of illegality by improving forest governance and law enforcement. A major strength of VPAs is that they look beyond trade to consider development and environmental issues.

Stakeholders in government, the private sector and civil society develop VPAs through a participatory process. A VPA 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.

VPAs are a key component of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan of 2003. Côte d’Ivoire is one of nine tropical countries that are negotiating VPAs with the EU. Six more countries have ratified VPAs and are implementing the agreements.

Key elements of a VPA

Key elements of a VPA are described in its main text and annexes. In countries where VPAs have already been signed, these include:

  • A timber legality assurance system to verify that timber products are legal and can be issued with FLEGT licences
  • Commitments to legal reforms, public disclosure of information and other improvements to forest governance
  • A framework for overseeing, monitoring and evaluating implementation of the VPA and its economic, social and environmental impacts.

How a VPA promotes legal timber trade

A VPA partner country that has implemented a timber legality assurance system and other VPA commitments can issue verified legal timber products with FLEGT licences. The advantage of this is that FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits EU operators from placing illegally harvested timber and timber products on the EU market.

The EUTR entered into force in 2013. It requires EU operators to perform due diligence checks to ensure the timber products they place on the EU market are legal. FLEGT-licensed timber meets the due diligence requirements under the EUTR.

A VPA partner country can only issue FLEGT licences through a timber legality assurance system that the EU and the partner country have agreed on, developed and tested. Before a country can begin FLEGT licensing, the EU and the partner country must confirm that the country’s timber legality assurance system works as described in the VPA. Confirmation by the two parties means that the system is robust and will issue FLEGT licences only to legal timber products.

While FLEGT licensing is an important goal, it is not the end point of a VPA process. Governance reforms, legislative and policy reforms, impact monitoring, improvements to the timber legality assurance system and other activities continue.

Through progress on VPAs, the EU Timber Regulation and dialogues with other important timber markets including China, the EU and the VPA partner countries are contributing to a growing global movement to address trade in illegal timber and timber products. The United States and Australia also prohibit the placing of illegal timber on their markets. The process to achieve FLEGT licences may therefore help VPA partner countries such as Côte d’Ivoire meet the legality requirements of markets beyond the EU.

Stakeholders in government, the private sector and civil society develop VPAs through a participatory process

Stakeholders in government, the private sector and civil society develop VPAs through a participatory process

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

The Côte d’Ivoire-EU VPA

Côte d’Ivoire and the EU are negotiating the terms of the VPA through a cooperative process: both parties share the goal of fostering good forest governance and addressing illegality.

Côte d’Ivoire and the EU began negotiating the VPA in February 2013. The negotiations involve representatives of Côte d’Ivoire civil society organisations, the private sector, government ministries and agencies, and traditional chiefs. Through wide participation, the process aims to foster significant national ownership, stakeholder engagement and a broad consensus that will promote effective VPA implementation.

Following the conclusion of negotiations, Côte d’Ivoire and EU will sign and ratify the VPA and its commitments will become legally binding. A Côte d’Ivoire -EU joint body will oversee the implementation of the VPA and respond to concerns as they arise. VPA implementation can therefore improve as it proceeds.

In order to issue FLEGT licences as required by the VPA, Côte d’Ivoire will build on existing national initiatives in forest governance to develop a robust timber legality assurance system. Côte d’Ivoire will begin issuing FLEGT licences when the timber legality assurance system has been successfully evaluated, and when Côte d’Ivoire and the EU are satisfied that it functions as described in the VPA.

VPAs signed to-date have also included commitments to improve transparency, accountability, legislative clarity and other aspects of governance.

Stakeholders in government, the private sector and civil society develop VPAs through a participatory process

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Côte d’Ivoire’s efforts to tackle illegal logging

Côte d’Ivoire has recently strengthened its efforts to address illegal logging, a significant problem the country has struggled with for decades. In July 2014, Côte d’Ivoire passed a new forest law that regulates logging activities and grants tree ownership rights to land owners. The Ministry of Forestry has also improved access to information related to forest governance by publishing procedures for allocating permits on its website. In 2014, the Ministry took action against illegal loggers to enforce the law in state forests.

In the context of VPA negotiations, a NGO called Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) obtained funding from the EU FAO-FLEGT programme in 2014 to carry out independent monitoring in the classified forest of Cavally. In April 2016, WCF renewed its agreement with Côte d’Ivoire’s state-owned forest development company SODEFOR (Société de Développement des Forêts de Côte d'Ivoire) to extend its independent monitoring activities for three more years.

Key dates

  • 2013: Côte d’Ivoire begins VPA negotiations
  • 2013: Côte d’Ivoire and the EU hold the first round of negotiations
  • 2014: Côte d’Ivoire and the EU hold the second round of negotiations
  • 2015: Exchanges at a technical level between Côte d’Ivoire and the EU on the legality definition and the development of the timber legality assurance system

Côte d’Ivoire’s timber legality assurance system

Under the VPA, Côte d’Ivoire will commit to develop a system for assuring the legality of its timber. As in all VPAs, the timber legality assurance system must have the following five components:

  1. Legality definition: The legality definition states the aspects of a VPA partner country’s law for which the timber legality assurance system evaluates evidence of compliance.
  2. Supply chain controls: Supply chain controls ensure that timber products verified as legal remain legal throughout all processes associated with the supply chain. Supply chain controls also prevent verified legal products being tainted by unverified products entering the supply chain.
  3. Verification of compliance: Verification of compliance involves checks that all the requirements of the VPA legality definition and supply chain controls have been met to ensure that timber products are legal.
  4. FLEGT licensing: A FLEGT licensing authority issues FLEGT licences to consignments of timber products that the verification mechanism has confirmed are legally compliant. FLEGT licensing cannot begin until a joint evaluation of the timber legality assurance system by Côte d’Ivoire and the EU confirms that the system works as described in the VPA (see Next steps).
  5. Independent audit: The independent audit regularly checks that all aspects of the legality assurance system work properly. An annex to the VPA provides terms of reference for the auditor. 

Developing a credible timber legality assurance system covering both the export and domestic markets in Côte d’Ivoire

Three workshops strengthened the capacity of members of the Technical Negotiation Committee (Comité Technique de Négotiation, or CTN in French) and its thematic working group that focuses on the timber legality assurance system:

  • A workshop in July 2014 introduced the concept of legality verification to a wide group of stakeholders – public officials, representatives of civil society organisations and the private sector. Participants learned about core concepts and discussed technical issues.
  • A workshop in March 2015 deepened analysis of the timber legality assurance system, focusing on the legality definition, supply chain controls and verification of compliance.
  • A workshop in March 2016 launched the drafting of the VPA annex on Côte d’Ivoire’s timber legality assurance system. Participants also discussed national information management systems, non-compliance management, and potential synergies between the VPA and REDD+.

In December 2015, Côte d’Ivoire tested the legality definition under development. Broad consultation at this stage helped further develop the legality definition and encouraged stakeholder engagement.

Côte d’Ivoire has expressed a desire to extend the scope of its legality assurance system to include the large volume of timber sold locally. To date, informal operators provide most of the timber for the domestic market.

Since 2014, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has been working with the Ministry of Forests and the CTN to identify strategies for formalising the domestic timber market and to formulate a plan for including the domestic timber market in the VPA.

How the Côte d’Ivoire-EU VPA improves forest governance

The VPA process has already had an impact as result of multistakeholder negotiations (see Côte d’Ivoire -EU VPA).

Greater participation in decision-making

The level of stakeholder participation in the VPA process in Côte d’Ivoire is unprecedented. Representatives of the government, civil society, the private sector and traditional chiefs actively participate in the negotiations. The VPA process is a vehicle for addressing the needs of a wide range of stakeholders and for including many people who have never before had a voice in decision-making.

Côte d’Ivoire’s efforts to ensure effective stakeholder engagement

The Technical Negotiation Committee (Comité Technique de Négotiation, or CTN in French) was established in 2013 as a multistakeholder team to negotiate the VPA with the EU. The government, civil society, private sector and traditional chiefs are represented in the CTN.

Stakeholders have organised themselves into platforms known as “Collèges”: Collège government, Collège civil society, Collège private sector and Collège traditional chiefs. These platforms support dialogue among stakeholders, help disseminate information and inform CTN discussions.

Following the second negotiation session, held in Brussels in June 2014, three thematic working groups were established in support of the CTN: one focuses on the legality definition and timber legality assurance system, a second group focuses on the domestic market and supporting measures, and a third group focuses on transparency and communication.

The three groups involve additional stakeholders and, hence, widen stakeholder participation.

Enhanced capacity to address illegal logging

The VPA process is strengthening the capacity of government, the private sector, civil society and communities to work together to address illegality in Côte d’Ivoire’s forest sector. A civil society organisation, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, has been leading a pilot project since 2014 in which independent observers undertake field missions to gather data for identifying governance challenges that need addressing.

More transparency

VPAs agreed to date include an annex on public disclosure of information. The annex lists the information that the government of the VPA partner country commits to making available. A thematic working group in the Côte d’Ivoire’s national negotiation committee has worked on the public disclosure annex. The national negotiation committee shared a first consolidated draft with the EU in May 2016. The working group has also drafted a communication strategy to ensure that relevant information is broadly disseminated in a timely manner to grassroots stakeholders.

Legal reforms and improved legal clarity

The VPA process in Côte d’Ivoire is providing an opportunity to make legal requirements and law enforcement clearer, as well as to identify overlaps, gaps and contradictions in the current legal framework.

Through their work on the timber legality definition and the timber legality assurance system, Ivoirian stakeholders have identified specific laws that need revising to clarify and complete the legal framework. The VPA national negotiation committee is closely involved in the process of drafting the implementing texts of the new forest law which started in April 2016.

A thematic working group has analysed the domestic market and is defining a strategy to ensure it is covered in the VPA.

Source: EU FLEGT Facility

Next steps

Sign, ratify and implement the VPA

Côte d’Ivoire has made progress in the negotiation phase of the VPA process. Stakeholders in the country, including the government, civil society, private sector and traditional chiefs, have now to reiterate their commitment to seeing the VPA through to signature, ratification and full implementation. According to the current version of the tentative negotiation roadmap, the parties foresee signing the VPA by December 2018.

Develop the timber legality assurance system

As part of the VPA negotiations, Côte d’Ivoire is developing a vision and a description of its timber legality assurance system. Once the VPA is signed, additional work will be required to make the system operational. To minimise the time lag between the end of negotiations and issuing the first FLEGT licences, Côte d’Ivoire is keen to start preparations for implementing the timber legality assurance system in parallel with the negotiations.

Trade in FLEGT-licensed timber

When a joint EU-Côte d’Ivoire evaluation concludes that the Ivoirian timber legality assurance system is fully operational as described in the VPA, the joint implementation committee can propose that Côte d’Ivoire begins to issue FLEGT licences. Once a decision is made to commence FLEGT licensing, the parties will follow their respective internal processes, including legislative measures, such as amending the FLEGT Regulation on the EU side.

Once FLEGT licensing begins, a valid FLEGT licence must accompany all exports to the EU of Côte d’Ivoire’s timber-based products listed in Annex I of the VPA. EU customs officials will deny entry to any products covered by the VPA that arrive without a valid FLEGT licence.

More information

  • European Commission Directorate-General Environment: FLEGT and VPAs [Read online]
  • VPA dedicated page at the website of Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of Forests [Read online]
  • VPA Unpacked: Helping you understand FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements [Read online]
  • SODEFOR - Société de Développement des Forêts de Côte d'Ivoire [Visit website]
  • EU FLEGT Facility: Côte d’Ivoire [Read online]
  • FAO FLEGT Programme [Read online]
  • ITTO: VPA independent market monitoring [Visit website]
  • Côte d’Ivoire [Visit website]
  • FLEGT Côte d’Ivoire document repository [Read online]
  • FLEGT Media: Helping journalists report on efforts to combat illegal logging through the EU FLEGT Action Plan [Read online]
  • [Visit website]