Markets working to support sustainable development

The EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Process in Developing Countries

As part of the FLEGT process, the EU establishes bilateral Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with developing countries to guarantee that wood exported to the EU is legal. In addition, the VPA supports partner countries in improving their own regulation and forest governance procedures.

The VPAs includes 3 main elements: 

a) A definition of what is legal and what is not. Even though VPAs are voluntary, each country that signs up is legally bound to comply. It achieves this through extensive participation with all stakeholders to help decide which laws will be enforced as part of the agreement, being sure to include ones related to environmental, social and economic issues. 

b) The development of a Legality Assurance System (LAS), which includes timber tracking, government legality controls and systems to verify the legality of the timber. For this, the main tools are: a matrix that outlines the laws; verifiers and indicators used to monitor the enforcement of laws; wood tracing systems; third party verfication that no illegal wood has entered the supply chain; and a licensing system whereby timber that has been verfied can be exported to the EU. 

c) Independent audits to ensure the system is working and that the licensing system is credible. This is integral to incentivising effective forest management because products licenced by FLEGT automatically comply with EU Timber Regulations which prohibit producers in Europe putting illegally sourced timber onto the European market. In addition, third Party verfication is often complemented by independent monitoring/observation - a process conducted by NGOs who give their information to the auditors.

Market coverage: 

Eight years (June 2014) after the first formal negotiations began, six countries have signed Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreements (FLEGT VPAs), including Ghana, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Republic of Congo (ROC), Liberia and Indonesia. Official negotiations are also ongoing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Guyana, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Meanwhile, other countries expressing an interest include Bolivia, Cambodia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Madagascar, Paraguay, Sierra Leone and Myanmar/Burma. However, eventhough several countries have been involved over the last ten years, there has not been a single licence issued (FERN, 2014). 

Background information: 

The EU FLEGT Action Plan was published in 2003 and focuses on seven areas to combat the problem of illegal timber exports to the EU, while also allowing sustainble growth in developing countries - these are:

  • Support to timber exporting countries
  • Activities to promote trade in legal timber
  • Promoting public procurement policies
  • Support for private sector initiatives
  • Safeguards for financing and investment
  • Use of existing legislative instruments of adoption of new legislation
  • Addressing the problem of conflict timber
Funding source: 

EU, DFID, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland, The French foreign Ministry, GTZ, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Finland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

Notable information: 

Research conducted by FERN found that VPA implentation has been slow, making funders concerned about whether or not they are getting value for money. In response, FERN and Chatham House are working together to produce proposals for a new action plan. However, FERN also found that VPAs have resulted in some improvements in areas such as governance, civil society and transparency.