Introduction and status update

The Gabon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement

This introduction and status update document provides information on the Gabon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement, which aims to address illegal logging, improve forest governance and promote trade in legal timber products. 

Quick read

  • Illegal logging creates social problems, environmental degradation and loss of economic opportunities.
  • In September 2010, Gabon and the EU began negotiating a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to promote trade in legal timber products and improve forest governance.
  • Under a VPA, Gabon would develop a timber legality assurance system and implement legal and governance reforms identified by stakeholders.
  • Awareness-raising, consultation sessions and forest sector assessments helped stakeholders identify forest governance challenges and build the legality definition.
  • The negotiation process has encountered obstacles that are yet to be overcome.
  • Nevertheless, the VPA process has enabled stakeholders to come together and work on the forest law reform process.

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. 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 participatory processes. 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. Gabon is one of several tropical countries that are negotiating VPAs with the EU. Six 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.

Status of the Gabon-EU VPA negotiations

Gabon and the EU began negotiating a VPA in September 2010. Awareness-raising, consultation sessions and forest sector assessments helped stakeholders identify forest governance challenges and build the legality definition. Although the EU and Gabon have had initial discussions on the legislation and indicators to include in the VPA legality definition, and the basis on which to build a timber legality assurance system, progress has been slow and there have been no negotiation sessions since 2011. Nevertheless, the VPA process has enabled stakeholders to come together and work on the forest law reform process.