The European Union (EU) and Laos held their fourth Joint Expert Meeting (JEM) on a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). The meeting took place virtually from 9 to 11 September 2020 with the participation of relevant ministries, civil society and the private sector. The Agreement aims to establish a system to verify the legality of timber and timber products harvested and exported by Laos. This helps to promote trade in legal timber products, improves forest governance and contributes to combatting illegal logging.
‘Laos would like to express its appreciation for the ongoing support of the EU and the German government through the GIZ project ‘Protection and Sustainable Use of Forest Ecosystems and Biodiversity (ProFEB)’. The development and improvement of timber legality definitions and remaining elements of the timber legality assurance system are the most important part of the VPA.’ said Mr. Sousath Sayakoummane, Director General of the Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and JEM co-chair. He also emphasized that ‘the multi-stakeholder approach with involvement of government, the private sector and civil society remains a core strength of the VPA between Laos and EU, as the negotiations continue to progress.
Since the third meeting in June 2019, Laos has promulgated the amended Land Law, the amended Forest Law, the decree on promotion of commercial tree plantation, and the decree on environmental impact assessments, as well as other key regulations. These changes provide further clarification on what will be considered legal under the VPA between Laos and the EU.
During the meeting, the EU and Laos reviewed five timber legality definitions, which will be used to verify the legality of timber and timber products. Laos made progress on defining the legality of timber from: conversion areas; plantations; village use forests, and land of individuals, legal entities and organizations; confiscated timber and imported timber. Both sides agreed to set aside these five timber legality definitions and noted that they are living documents which will be reviewed depending on the further work on Lao legislation reforms and the timber legality assurance system.
Laos also outlined the ongoing activities to field test supply chain control and verification system for timber from conversion areas.
‘We welcome the progress Laos has made on the five timber legality definitions and the ongoing preparatory activities to field test supply chain control and verification system’, said Ms. Gordana Topić, Policy Officer at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment and JEM Co-Chair. ‘We look forward to the results from further work on the timber legality assurance system, which will be a central element of the VPA and, as such an important step towards good forest governance and trade in legal timber, expected to produce positive impacts on Laos’ forest sector.’
Following the meeting, work will continue to further develop the remaining elements of the timber legality assurance system and to start developing other annexes in the Agreement.
The VPA process has created an unprecedented opportunity for Laos to join a coalition of countries that are fighting illegal logging and improving forest governance around the globe. Currently, 15 countries worldwide are negotiating or implementing VPAs with the EU.