The Government of Lao PDR and the European Union held their first negotiations towards a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) to improve forest governance and combat illegal logging. The Agreement aims at establishing a system to certify the legality of timber products harvested and exported by Laos and thereby promoting trade in legal timber products.
The engagement in a FLEGT VPA process with the EU is part of the strong commitment by the Government of Lao PDR to combat illegal logging and its devastating social, economic and environmental impacts. The forest-sector reforms with the implementation of the Prime Minister Order No. 15 are providing a strong basis for achieving these goals.
This first negotiation was preceded by extensive preparations and technical work at the national level through a multi-stakeholder process. The main focus of this week’s negotiations was on discussion around the future product scope of the Agreement and on defining legality for timber from various sources. A team from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment in Brussels represented the EU in the talks.
Following the negotiations in Vientiane, work will continue on defining legality and on developing supply chain controls and procedures for verifying that timber is legal.
As part of the VPA negotiations, Laos is currently reviewing its forest legislation and policy, developing a system to verify the legality of timber products, and will be making other commitments on issues such as transparency and independent monitoring.
The definition of legality, design of the timber legality assurance system and other VPA commitments will be determined through national deliberations among stakeholders from the government, private sector and civil society.
“Laos chose to enter the VPA process to improve law enforcement, capacity and the overall governance regime in the forest sector,” said Dr. Phouangparisak Pravongviengkham, Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Forestry and Lao Chief Negotiator for Lao-EU FLEGT VPA. “The VPA will also help Laos to enhance its industry’s capacity for value-added wood processing and increase access to regional and EU timber markets, as well as to improve local livelihoods through better management of forests.”
The EU and Laos recognise that the process of negotiating and implementing the VPA will be a long-term undertaking for both parties. As shown from the experience of other VPA countries, building consensus among national stakeholders and implementing all the reforms and establishing the robust and credible systems required for the implementation of the Agreement take time.
The VPA process has created an unprecedented opportunity for Lao civil society organisations to engage in dialogue on policies that affect forest governance. Full participation of these groups and private sector, as mandated by the Prime Minister Decision on FLEGT VPA in 2015, will be critical to the success of the VPA negotiations. By fostering deliberation and building consensus among stakeholders, the process can ensure national ownership and effective implementation of the VPA.
“By starting FLEGT VPA negotiations with the EU, Laos demonstrates its strong commitment to sustainable forest management and joins a coalition of countries that are fighting illegal logging and improving forest governance,” said Ambassador Leo Faber, Head of the EU Delegation to Laos. “Fifteen countries are now negotiating or implementing VPAs with the EU and momentum is building. Together, the EU and our partners, are harnessing the power of trade to address the social, economic and environmental problems illegal logging causes.”
VPAs are a key component of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, which aims to combat illegal logging and ensure forests contribute to sustainable development and efforts to address climate change.
You can download the press release HERE