The European Union (EU) and Laos held their third round of face-to-face negotiations on a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). The talks took place in Brussels, Belgium from 17-21 June 2019. The Agreement aims to establish a system to verify the legality of 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.
‘The Government of Laos is committed to further develop our forest sector into a sustainable resource for our country’ said Dr. Phouangparisak Pravongviengkham, Vice Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, the Head of the Lao negotiating team. ‘Our negotiations with the EU are part of this, as the implementation of the VPA will help to enhance the robustness of our timber supply chain and the responsible management of our forests.’
Since the second face-to-face negotiations in June 2018, Laos has made several revisions, especially to its Forest Law, its Land Law and a new decree on environmental impact assessments. These changes provide further clarification on what will be considered legal under the VPA between Laos and the EU.
During their talks, the EU and Laos reviewed the timber legality definitions, which will be used to indicate legality of timber. Laos made progress on defining the legality of timber from conversion areas and imported timber. Work on natural production forests and labour obligations in forestry, wood processing and trading operations progressed significantly as well.
The Lao side also provided updates on how communities can now use forests for commercial purposes under the Forest Law, potentially allowing for additional livelihood income for these communities, and providing an additional source of raw materials for SME and household production. And Laos gave further insight into the institutional arrangements to implement the VPA and the timber legality assurance system.
‘We welcome the progress Laos has made on developing its VPA timber legality assurance system’ said Jorge Rodriguez Romero, Deputy Head of Unit, European Commission Directorate General for Environment. ‘We look forward to the testing and implementation of the system, which is an important step in furthering good forest governance and trade in legal timber and will have positive impacts on Laos’ forest sector.’
Following the negotiations, work will continue to further develop and clarify the timber legality definitions and of the timber legality assurance system. The German Development Cooperation project ‘Protection and Sustainable Use of Forest Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Laos’ (ProFEB), implemented by GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit), under the supervision of FLEGT Standing Office, department of Forest Inspection, will continue to support the Lao Government and its stakeholders in their effort towards a VPA with the EU.
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.