The EU FLEGT Action Plan is the EU response to growing concerns about the harmful effects of illegal logging. As the EU developed the EU FLEGT Action Plan, the world’s great tropical forests appeared to be in terminal decline. EU stakeholders, including civil society organisations, the private sector and some EU Member States pressed for action on illegal logging.
Pressure also came from political dialogue in the G8 and regional meetings in Asia and Africa in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A ministerial conference in Indonesia in 2001 made it clear that illegal logging was not just a problem for producer countries. Consumer markets also had to act. Ignorance could no longer be bliss for wood consumers far from the scream of the chainsaws.
It was crucial that illegal timber products be excluded from the EU market, but it was also clear that there could be no simple answer. Writing better laws in both producing and consuming countries – or in some cases reducing the sheer number of them – was clearly needed. But even when good laws exist on paper, they are often not enforced. Other times, laws are enforced but they reward forest destroyers and disinherit the poor. Meanwhile, demand for wood products continues to be strong. If there is to be a solution, then traders, transporters, manufacturers, buyers and shoppers all need to be part of it.
Ensuring legal and sustainable timber markets is not just a technical matter, of course. Laws are crucial, but the politics of forests has to be addressed. And that’s where the “G” in FLEGT comes in: governance. The EU believes it can harness demand for furnishings in France to help forest people and their advocates get a place at the political bargaining table in Thailand. Beyond combating illegal logging and trade, the power of the euro can help to promote good forest management and more transparent, participatory and accountable governance in countries with a decided dearth of these things.
The EU recognises these challenges and set out to address them in one holistic package of measures: the EU FLEGT Action Plan.
Credit: EU FLEGT Facility
FLEGT is a series of stories that unfold over years. Big news can come at any time, as when customs officials seize illegal wood; Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) negotiations reach a climax; forest monitors report illegal logging; or a country begins to issue FLEGT licences to verified legal timber products.
Key milestones in the history of FLEGT include:
- 2003: EU adopts the EU FLEGT Action Plan (see Seven pillars of FLEGT and F.L.E.G.T – letter by letter)
- 2005: EU FLEGT Regulation comes into force, empowering the European Commission to negotiate VPAs with timber-exporting countries
- 2006: Ghana begins VPA negotiations with the EU
- 2007: Cameroon, Indonesia and Malaysia begin VPA negotiations with the EU
- 2008: The Republic of the Congo begins VPA negotiations with the EU
- 2009: Central African Republic and Liberia begin VPA negotiations with the EU
- 2010: Ghana ratifies VPA with the EU
- 2010: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Vietnam begins VPA negotiations with the EU
- 2011: Cameroon ratifies VPA with the EU
- 2012: Central African Republic ratifies VPA with the EU
- 2012: Guyana begins VPA negotiations with the EU
- 2013: EU Timber Regulation enters into force, requiring EU companies to perform due diligence to ensure the timber products they trade are legal
- 2013: Republic of the Congo and Liberia ratify VPAs with the EU
- 2013: Côte d'Ivoire, Honduras and Thailand begin VPA negotiations with the EU
- 2014: Indonesia ratifies VPA with the EU
- 2015: Six countries are implementing VPAs. Nine more countries are negotiating VPA with the EU.
- 2015: Independent evaluation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan (see the EU FLEGT Facility’s page on this)
Ghana-EU VPA signature, 2009
Credit: EU FLEGT Facility
FLEGT applies to all 28 EU Member States. Under FLEGT, the EU timber regulation prohibits operators in any of these EU member states from placing illegal timber on the market.
FLEGT also includes activities in timber-exporting countries. Six countries are implementing FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with the EU: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia, and Republic of Congo. This entails these countries addressing the commitments they have made in the VPA, including developing timber legality assurance systems, ahead of FLEGT licensing. Nine more countries are negotiating VPAs with the EU: Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guyana, Honduras, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam.
But FLEGT reaches even wider through links with initiatives in other markets that are striving to eliminate illegal timber (see Beyond FLEGT). The Map of FLEGT projects gathers information on FLEGT-related projects worldwide and features video interviews with people who work on FLEGT in governments, the private sector and civil society organisations in different countries.
Forests matter to everyone. From indigenous forest dwellers in Indonesian Borneo to Ikea shoppers in cities across Europe, we are all connected in some way to the forests of the world. Reflecting this, FLEGT activities in the EU and partner countries involve a broad range of actors from governments, international organisations, the private sector, civil society, communities and indigenous peoples. Some of these stakeholders are:
In the EU:
- The European Commission leads Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) negotiations on behalf of the EU. The European Council and European Parliament must ratify VPAs before they enter into force. During the implementation phase of VPAs, the EU delegation in a partner country takes the lead on behalf of the EU.
- EU Member States vary widely in their engagement with FLEGT. Some countries have ports receiving large amounts of timber, and some do not. Some societies devote more money to foreign aid. Some countries have better relations with specific timber-producing countries. And sometimes, as in everything, it just comes down to specific people in certain posts.
- International organisations such as the FLEGT Programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
- Private sector. Companies that import and trade timber are responsible for complying with the EU Timber Regulation to ensure their supply chains are free of illegal timber. Timber trade federations support and advocate on behalf of their members.
- Civil society. NGOs like Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency work to reveal cases of illegal logging and forest destruction. The NGO ClientEarth concentrates on ensuring the EU Timber Regulation is fit for purpose. Others like Fern work with civil society organisations in timber-producing countries to secure a seat at the negotiating table. These organisations and many others have an interest in FLEGT.
- EU taxpayers. Individuals across the EU pay for FLEGT through their taxes.
In timber-producing countries:
The breadth of players in producer countries includes forest communities, companies, NGOs and the government.
- Government. The politics of forests goes way beyond forest ministries. Other government stakeholders include ministries responsible for environment, trade, and justice as well as all authorities and subnational bodies involved in making and enforcing legislation and policies that relate to forests. These include forest authorities, customs officers, finance and tax officials, justice department representatives and authorities in environment, health and labour. If FLEGT is to work effectively, it is essential that there is coordination and coherent policies across all these departments.
- Private sector. This diverse group of stakeholders includes forest concession owners; household-based furniture makers; timber transporters; wood processing companies; and buyers, sellers, and exporters of timber and products.
- Civil society. In addition to environmental organisations, these include organisations and NGOs working on indigenous and community rights, human rights and labour issues.
- Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities. Such communities have historically have seen their rights violated – both from forest destruction and, paradoxically, ostensible forest protection. For this group of stakeholders, the issue of rights is central: the rights to be consulted and informed, but more importantly to give consent to proposed forest-related policies, and the right to their cultural heritage – the forest.
The ‘who’ of FLEGT also includes the illegal loggers and those who benefit from their crimes. They include:
- Logging companies that harvest more trees than they are legally allowed, or which take trees from protected areas
- Small-scale illegal chainsaw operators who cut trees they have no rights to fell
- Organised criminals felling trees illegally in national parks
- Impoverished smallholder farmers clearing land for agriculture or cutting timber for housing without the necessary permits
- Corrupt officials who accept (or expect) bribes to turn a blind eye to forest crimes, or who allocate logging permits without following due process in return for cash
- Companies throughout the supply chain from forests in the tropics to shops in Europe that trade in illegal timber
The EU FLEGT Action Plan’s challenge is to ensure law enforcement does not target weak groups, such as poor rural people, while leaving powerful players unscathed.
Liberia River Cess Siahn clan meeting
Credit: Tim Lewis, Handcrafted Films
The EU FLEGT Action Plan aims to address illegal logging by strengthening sustainable and legal forest management, improving governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber. The Action Plan includes a mix of demand- and supply-side measures (see Seven pillars of FLEGT). The two most prominent measures are:
- The EU Timber Regulation, which entered into force in March 2013, prohibits EU companies from placing illegal timber and timber products on the EU market. It requires timber importers and traders to apply due diligence procedures to ensure their timber supplies are legal. It requires EU Member States to check on company performance and punish non-compliance. See EU Timber Regulation.
- Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs). These are bilateral treaties between the EU and individual timber exporting companies outside the EU. VPAs ensure that timber and timber products exported to the EU come from legal sources. The agreements also help timber-exporting countries improve regulation and governance of the forest sector. Each VPA describes a timber legality assurance system that, when fully implemented, will issue verified legal timber with FLEGT licences. The advantage is that the EU deems FLEGT licences as automatically meeting the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation. See Voluntary Partnership Agreements.
The EU FLEGT Action Plan’s achievements to date include:
- EU Timber Implementation: Most EU Member States have now implemented the regulation. For more information, see EU Timber Regulation.
- Voluntary Partnership Agreements. Fifteen countries are now implementing or negotiating VPAs. Together these VPA partner countries have more than 4.4 million km2 of forest, an area larger than all 28 EU Member States combined. Of these partner countries, six are now developing the systems needed to control, verify and issue FLEGT licences to legal timber. To date, no VPA country has reached this important milestone. See Voluntary Partnership Agreements.
- Improved forest governance: VPA processes have improved forest governance by enabling stakeholders to participate in decision-making processes like never before. VPAs have also improved other aspects of governance such as transparency, legal clarity, accountability and capacity. See G for governance.
Processed timber in Cameroon
Credit: EU FLEGT Facility