The Guyana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement

Quick read

  • Illegal logging causes social problems, environmental degradation and a loss of economic opportunities
  • In December 2012, Guyana and the EU began negotiating a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to promote trade in legal timber products and improve forest governance
  • Guyana and the EU concluded negotiations and initialled the VPA in November 2018; it will enter into force after the Parties have both signed and ratified it
  • Under the VPA Guyana will develop a timber legality assurance system so it can issue FLEGT licences to verified legal timber products
  • Once Guyana begins FLEGT licensing, the products covered by the VPA will only be exported to the EU accompanied by FLEGT licences attesting to their legality
  • Products not covered by the VPA and exported to the EU will remain subject to the exercise of due diligence by EU importers in the context of the EU Timber Regulation
  • FLEGT-licensed timber products from Guyana will be able to enter the EU market without undergoing the due diligence checks required by the EU Timber Regulation
  • There is stakeholder support for the aim of achieving a credible VPA. The Guyanese Government, the private sector and indigenous peoples are looking for ways to ensure decisions related to a VPA are taken in a participatory way.

Guyana’s forest sector

Forests cover 87% of Guyana and make an important contribution to the economy, providing jobs and livelihoods. The Government owns the vast majority of the forests and lands, while indigenous peoples own 14% of the land (covered by 1.3 million hectares of forest; 6% of the country’s total). In 2017, the annual deforestation rate was estimated to be 0.048%. Most deforestation is attributed to mining for gold and bauxite, which represents 60% of Guyana’s exports by value. Mining accounted for 87% of deforestation in 2014 and 74% in 2017.

According to the FLEGT Independent Market Monitor, EU imports from Guyana tend to be quite volatile. Having fallen sharply to USD 2.2 million in 2016, imports from Guyana peaked to USD 5.1 million, before easing to USD 4.8 million in September 2019.

Sources: TFT (2013); Government of Guyana (2013)

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 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. While a VPA cannot address every issue in a country, due to its participatory nature, it allows different stakeholders to raise issues related to the forest sector that they want to see addressed.

VPAs are a key component of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan of 2003. Guyana is one of 15 tropical countries that are negotiating or implementing 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

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 is that FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits EU operators from placing illegally-harvested 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 implementation of the EUTR and dialogues with other important timber market, including China, the EU and its VPA partner countries are contributing to a growing global movement to stop trade in illegal timber products. Australia, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan also seek to restrict the placing of illegal timber on their markets. The process to achieve FLEGT licences may therefore help VPA partner countries such as Guyana meet the legality requirements of markets beyond the EU.

The Guyana-EU VPA

Guyana and the EU negotiated the terms of the VPA through a cooperative process: both Parties shared the goal of fostering good forest governance and addressing illegality.

The VPA negotiations began in December 2012. They involved the private sector, Government ministries and agencies, and indigenous peoples. Through wide participation, the process aimed to foster significant national ownership, stakeholder engagement and a broad consensus that would promote effective VPA implementation.

Guyana and the EU concluded VPA negotiations in 2018 and initialled the VPA in November. After Guyana and the EU sign and ratify the VPA, its commitments will become legally binding. A Guyana-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, Guyana will build on existing national initiatives to develop a robust timber legality assurance. Guyana will begin issuing FLEGT licences only when the timber legality assurance system has been successfully tested, and when Guyana and the EU are satisfied that it functions as described in the VPA.

The VPA includes commitments to improve transparency, accountability, legislative clarity and other aspects of governance.

Guyana’s efforts to tackle illegal logging

Guyana has made considerable efforts to address illegal logging and manage its forests sustainably. In 2000, Guyana introduced a log tracking system to verify the origin of forest products and control harvesting in state forests.

In 2009, the Government launched a Low Carbon Development Strategy that promotes economic development while combating climate change by avoiding deforestation. In 2011, Guyana published a national forest policy and national forest plan, which it revised in 2018. The new policy and plan moves away from valuing forests simply for their timber but treats them instead as a cornerstone of the national patrimony to be managed collectively. In 2016, Guyana ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. In its nationally determined contribution, Guyana commits to sustainable forest management and forest monitoring. In 2018, Guyana launched the Green State Development Strategy with the objective to reorient Guyana’s economy towards a diversified, decarbonised and resource-efficient economy.

Key dates:

1953: Forest Act introduced to administer Guyana’s forests

1998: Guyana Forestry Commission introduces a Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting based on the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Model Code of Forest Practice

2000: Guyana Forestry Commission introduces a log tracking system

2002: Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting revised

2008: Parliament passes the New Draft Forest Act (Forest Bill 2007)

2009: Forest Act enacted

2012: Guyana and the EU hold the first round of VPA negotiations

2013: Guyana and the EU hold the second round of VPA negotiations

2015: Guyana and the EU hold the third round of VPA negotiations

2016: Guyana and the EU hold the fourth round of VPA negotiations

2018: Guyana enacts new Forest Regulations, replacing those from 1953

2018: Guyana gazettes the Code of Practice for Forests Operations 

2018: VPA negotiations conclude; Guyana and the EU initial the VPA


Guyana’s timber legality assurance system

Under the VPA, Guyana 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 compliance with, for purposes of FLEGT licensing.
  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 from 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 Guyana 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. 

An annex of the Guyana-EU VPA describes the measures that will be put in place during the implementation of Guyana’s timber legality assurance system.

How the Guyana-EU VPA improves forest governance

The VPA process has already had an impact as result of multistakeholder negotiations (see Guyana-EU VPA process).

Greater participation in decision making

Stakeholder participation in the VPA process in Guyana improved since 2015. The VPA process is becoming a vehicle for addressing the needs of different stakeholders including people who have never before had a voice in decision making.

Enhanced capacity to address illegal logging

The VPA process is strengthening the capacity of representatives from the Government, the private sector and indigenous peoples to work together to address illegality in Guyana’s forest sector. The UK Department for International Development, the Government of Norway, the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme and the EU have all supported activities to ensure a fully inclusive VPA process. Capacity building will continue during the implementation of the VPA.

More transparency

Guyana’s Forestry Commission website has been publishing information on the VPA process, draft VPA annexes for comments, and reports on negotiation sessions and stakeholder meetings. The VPA includes an annex that lists the information the Government of Guyana commits to making publicly available. Guyana drafted this annex in consultation with stakeholders.

Legal reforms and improved legal clarity

In 2018, Guyana enacted new Forest Regulations, replacing outdated regulations that had been in force since 1953. Guyana also adopted a new Code of Practice for Forests Operations. These reforms will improve legal compliance by clarifying legal requirements, and will enable authorities to verify legal compliance and enforce the law.

Tackling conflicts over land tenure rights

Although the purpose of the VPA is not to address land issues, the Parties agreed that a coordination mechanism providing a dedicated space for dialogue on land tenure, land use and conflicts over land use among all concerned parties is instrumental in strengthening governance and law enforcement. The VPA annex on supporting measures will provide support to the Grievance and Redress Mechanism of the current Amerindian Land Titling Project, a tool that will allow complaints related to Amerindian land issues to be brought to the attention of Government ministries and agencies.

Supporting the rights of Amerindians

The VPA will support rights of Amerindians through several mechanisms. In the legality definition of the Agreement, one legality matrix is specifically dedicated to Amerindian Villages. In addition, matrices for all other operators include an indicator that requires that the operator does not impede the exercise of traditional rights of Amerindian peoples. In the Guyana Timber Legality Assurance Annex, the VPA foresees that when recommendations for titling of, or extensions to, Amerindian lands are approved and endorsed by the Cabinet of Guyana, the Guyana Forestry Commission is informed by the subject Minister. The Guyana Forestry Commission also has to follow these recommendations to revisit the concession area over which forest allocations have been granted and adjust the concession boundaries as necessary. Finally, during the implementation phase of the system, Guyana committed to develop criteria and procedures for assessing that the traditional rights of Amerindian peoples are not impeded.

Next steps

Sign and ratify the VPA

Having initialled the VPA in November 2018, Guyana and the EU are now following their respective internal procedures for signing and ratifying the Agreement.

Implement the VPA

Implementation involves work to develop the timber legality assurance system described in the VPA so Guyana can issue verified legal timber products with FLEGT licences. The EU and Guyana will establish a joint implementation committee, called the Joint Monitoring and Review Committee, to oversee implementation of the VPA.

In 2019, in consultation with Guinean stakeholders and the EU, a draft Joint Implementation Framework outlining the activities, responsibilities and timeline to implement the VPA was developed. This draft Framework is scheduled to be adopted by the Parties at the first meeting of the pre-JMRC. 

VPA implementation will involve identifying and addressing possible gaps in the forest allocation process and in the legal framework, upgrading systems for tracking wood through the supply chain, improving procedures for verifying legal compliance, and supporting Guyana in developing approaches for ensuring that the traditional rights of Amerindian peoples are not impeded. It will also include establishment of independent audits, a complaints mechanism, and systems and procedures for making information on the forest sector publicly available.

Other activities may include legal reforms and capacity building. Multistakeholder participation continues in the implementation phase.

Trade in FLEGT-licensed timber

When a joint EU-Guyana evaluation concludes that the Guyanese timber legality assurance system is fully operational as described in the VPA, the Joint Monitoring and Review Committee can propose that Guyana begin 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 Guyanese 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. Products outside the scope of the VPA will remain subject to the normal due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation.

Independent market monitoring

The European Commission has appointed the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) as the independent market monitor for all VPA countries. The independent market monitor will assess the trade in timber products between Guyana and the EU, and the impacts of FLEGT licensing on this trade.