What is a Voluntary Partnership Agreement?
Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) are a central element of the EU's strategy in the fight against illegal logging. A VPA is a bilateral trade agreement between the EU and a timber-exporting country outside the EU.
A VPA aims:
- to guarantee that any wood exported from a timber-producing country to the EU comes from legal sources
- to help the partner country stop illegal logging by improving forest governance and regulation
VPAs are voluntary for timber-exporting countries. However, once a VPA has entered into force, it is legally binding on both sides.
Under the VPA, the timber-producing country develops systems to verify that its timber exports are legal, and the EU agrees to accept only licensed imports from that country.
The benefits of a VPA
Improving forest governance and regulation
Each VPA defines 'legal timber', based on the laws and regulations of the partner country. Generally, the relevant laws cover environmental protection, logging rules, payment of fees, timber trade and transport regulation, and property rights, including those of the communities that depend on forests for their livelihoods.
The legality definition ensures that forest law requirements are applicable, consistent, understandable and enforceable – and also reflect the partner country's social, economic and environmental objectives. Negotiating a VPA provides a good opportunity for the timber-exporting country to improve its forest governance and regulation, reinforce law enforcement and promote sustainable forest management.
Involving forest stakeholders
The VPA negotiation process provides an opportunity for forest stakeholders in the timber-producing country to get involved in developing national legality standards, and to reach a consensus on forest rights. This involvement of the private sector and civil society can help create broad support for the VPA.
Ensuring legal sourcing and production of timber
Each VPA is underpinned by a strong timber legality assurance system (LAS). This system allows the timber-exporting country to verify that the timber and timber products are sourced and produced legally, and to award a ‘FLEGT licence' to each verified consignment.
The EU provides support to help the partner country implement its LAS. Once the system is in place and has successfully passed an independent evaluation, the EU will accept only FLEGT-licensed timber from the partner country.
Contributing to development objectives
A VPA can also support the partner country in achieving its development objectives. These could include alleviating poverty, securing employment and competitiveness, increasing government revenues, improving the capacity of government and the private sector, strengthening the rule of law and securing the rights of people who are dependent on forests for their livelihoods.
Fighting Illegal logging, EU Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development, EuropeAid
FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements, EU Directorate General for the Environment