Update on Progress on FLEGT in Lao PDR

The Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) process in Laos is supported by the EU FLEGT Asia Support Programme (hereafter called FLEGT Asia), which is implemented by the European Forest Institute to promote the EU FLEGT Action Plan in Asia. The programme has funding from the European Commission and some EU member states. Its work in Laos dates back to May 2009, when discussions with the Department of Forest Inspection (DOFI) were initiated, and followed by meetings with DOFI and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MOIC). These introductory discussions led to a joint letter from MAF and MOIC to the EU in 2010, requesting more engagement by the EU through FLEGT Asia. During the last year, FLEGT Asia has supported in collaboration with the EU Delegation in Laos a number of initiatives on capacity building, trade and regional cooperation. These actions were geared at assisting the Government of Laos (GoL) and the forest and timber sector to initiate a FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process with the EU, and to prepare for new EU legislation that will affect all timber entering the European market from early 2013.

The forest sector in Laos has been attracting increasing levels of support both financially and through technical cooperation, much of this due to the increasing expectations of REDD+ and land based investment opportunities. Within the private sector some major global plantation companies are showing attentiveness in the land resource available in Laos, and the timber industry is becoming interested in exporting to non-regional markets. A common factor that will underpin the future success of these initiatives will be the ability to demonstrate consistent governance and enforcement. 

In early 2011, the GoL establish a national FLEGT Focal Point in DOFI, comprising agencies under MAF and MOIC, as well as private sector representatives. The group has been able to form the core for exploring from the government side the potential for strengthening law and enforcement through the FLEGT process. FLEGT Asia commissioned a baseline study on the available information on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, and the Focal Point reviewed this prior to circulation (the study can be downloaded in English and a Lao version is also available). From this baseline, FLEGT Asia worked with the Focal Point to commission a more detailed and specific study on the processes controlling and managing timber flows in Laos. This timber tracking / timber flow study is still ongoing, and will be subject to public consultation on January 9th, 2012. The workshop will be chaired by the Vice Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. 

These two reports are designed to help provide the GoL with the necessary background information and context for entering formal negotiations with the EU on a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) that would license the legality of Lao timber entering the European market either directly from Laos or through a third country. As the volumes of timber that do flow from Laos to Europe are relatively small, the above mentioned preparations appeared necessary for the Laotian side to recognize the challenges and advantages of engaging into this process. 

The successful development of a VPA is based on broad national consultation about the country's specific requirements regulating forest tenure, management, production and trade, and the development of an enforceable control system for all timber passing through the trade chain. The EU is ready to explore related work once the Government has decided to enter into formal VPA negotiations. Such negotiations are currently ongoing with Vietnam and Malaysia, and were concluded with Indonesia earlier this year.

The FLEGT Focal Point, the EU Delegation and FLEGT Asia were asked to present on FLEGT during the last Intersessional Meeting of the National Assembly (NA) in November 2011. This gave the opportunity to present the rational for FLEGT directly to the main policy making body just at the time when the NA was calling for a review of the current Forest Law. The response by the NA has allowed the FLEGT Asia team to engage directly in the law review process by supporting the widest possible consultation. Working with other donors, FLEGT Asia will be trying to ensure that any revisions to the current Forest Law have wide backing and clearly demonstrate the controls and verification procedures to be put forward under VPA negotiations. 

During negotiations, the GoL will be asked to demonstrate the necessary level of enforcement capacity. The enforcement role in the forest sector is the responsibility of DOFI, a department that was established only three years ago. FLEGT Asia has helped to strengthen the capacity of DOFI and also other agencies. One element of this work has been joint trainings throughout the Mekong region. In particular two events have taken place, in November 2010 in Vietnam and in October 2011 in Malaysia. Laos was represented by MAF, DOF, DOFI, DIMEX, civil society and the private sector. The 2011 workshop summary can be found here.

The European Forest Institute likes to encourage all stakeholders in Laos to actively engage in the FLEGT process and related work like the upcoming Forest Law review process.