On June 3rd, an exchange meeting between private sector stakeholders from Laos and Vietnam was held as a combined online and in-person meeting and co-chaired by the Lao National Chamber of Industry and Commerce (LNCCI) and the Vietnamese Forest Association VIFOREST. The event was organized to update participants on the progress of the FLEGT process in both countries, provide an update on trade data and allow operators to share their experiences and challenges in trade due to changing timber legality requirements of both countries. Members from the Lao Furniture Association and Lao Wood Processing Industry Association were actively involved in the meeting.
While the Vietnamese government signed the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU in 2018, Laos is currently in the negotiation phase of the FLEGT-VPA, planning to initiate the VPA in 2023. The new Vietnamese Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS) requires all importers to apply risk management based on region and imported timber species. Under this regulation, Laos is currently regarded as a non-positive geographic region, which means importers in Vietnam need to apply due diligence and exporters from Laos need to provide information related to the legality of the imported timber. Since the development of the Lao TLAS and its key elements has been advancing significantly and several forest governances reforms have reshaped the legality framework, trade conditions for the private sector can be expected to improve and ease. However, the shortage of knowledge on the legality framework in both countries continues to pose challenges for the private sector and government and therefore also their economic relations.
This first-of-its-kind exchange successfully enhanced the understanding of the legality requirements of Laos and Vietnam and the possible impacts on the trade between the two markets. It furthermore gave an insight into how VIFOREST has been involved in the FLEGT process. Their lessons learned can be beneficial for LNCCI and the Lao associations for shaping their continued involvement in the FLEGT-VPA process, particularly for the VPA implementation phase. Both sides agreed that continued exchange will be beneficial for both sides, to discuss in more detail legal requirements and promotion of trade between both markets.