The Gabon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement

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.

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

Forests make an important contribution to Gabon’s economy, and provide jobs and livelihoods for people in the country. Gabon exports 90% of its timber production, mainly to China and Europe. Illegal logging, driven by trade, is one of several contributors to deforestation. Following a ban on the export of logs in 2010, the timber industry now focuses on producing processed products.

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. 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. However, progress has been slow and there has been no negotiation session since 2011. Nevertheless, in November 2019 the Forest Ministry in a letter to the EU expressed the intention to relaunch the negotiations. The VPA process has enabled stakeholders to come together and work on the forest law reform process.

Gabon’s efforts to tackle illegal logging

Gabon has made efforts to address illegal logging, a significant problem the country has struggled with for decades. In 2001, Gabon passed a Forest Law that calls for good governance and the sustainable management of forests. Forests are also a key component of the 2005 Gabon Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy and of the 2012 Strategic Plan on ‘Rising Gabon’ (in French, Plan stratégique Gabon émergent). More recently, Gabon initiated a review of its forest code. This review provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss challenges in the forest sector. The private sector and civil society are pushing for participation in this reform process.

In 2017, Gabon and the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) signed a Letter of Intent for USD 18 million to protect the country’s forests and accelerate the fight against climate change. The Letter is articulated around three objectives: a national land-use plan, a system to monitor forests and natural resources, and forest governance improvement with the goal of being Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified by 2022.

Key dates:

  • 2001: Gabon passes its current Forest Law.
  • 2005: Gabon passes a Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy, in which forests play a key role.
  • 2010: Gabon and the EU start negotiating a VPA and hold the first negotiating session.
  • 2011: Gabon and the EU hold the second negotiation session.
  • 2012: Gabon presents a national Strategic Plan on ‘Rising Gabon’.
  • 2016: New draft forest code presented to the Government.
  • 2019: Gabon send a letter to the EU expressing intent to relaunch negotiations.

Civil society participation in the Gabon-EU VPA

Civil society in Gabon participates in the VPA process through a dedicated national platform. All the participating non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have mandates relating to the environment. A limited number of organisations of indigenous peoples have also joined the platform.
A focal point coordinates the platform, runs a permanent secretariat and participates in every step of the VPA negotiations. A platform protocol sets out procedures for information management, participation and membership.
The national platform has enabled civil society in Gabon to speak with one voice. Thus far, the platform has analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the legal framework governing the forest sector. The platform has also built the capacity of local authorities and NGOs across the country.