On 6th May 2022, the 15th World Forestry Congress (WFC) came to a close after five days of intensive discussions between global environmental leaders addressing crucial global forest and environmental issues. The event highlighted that forests, forestry, and forest stakeholders are the major nature-based solutions to current environmental and social challenges. The responsibility for solutions should be shared between institutions, sectors, and countries.
Representatives from Cameroon, Laos and Vietnam jointly held a WFC side-event on “Enabling legal timber value chains by synergizing local practices and (inter)national timber legality requirements”. During the event, a panel discussion provided the opportunity to focus on timber trade dynamics, timber legality and supply chain control in the three countries. All three countries have entered negotiations with the European Union to develop a FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). The two countries, Cameroon and Vietnam, are already in the implementation phase of a signed VPA for the legal timber trade. The speakers reviewed the status of the FLEGT processes in their respective countries. They discussed how legal compliance in processing and harvesting countries paired with international cooperation can help to address the illegal timber trade.
Mr Pham Van Dien, Deputy Director-General of Vietnam’s Administration of Forestry at the Ministry of Forestry and Rural Development, provided a general overview of the Vietnam timber legality assurance system (TLAS), including working with high-risk source countries and law enforcement collaboration. Mr Dien reflected on the importance of international cooperation and exchange to get a common understanding of timber legality and timber flows. Mrs To Thi Thu Huong reflected on the significant role of non-state actors and youth in VPA-FLEGT preparation and implementation. Among others, she discussed their roles in facilitating participation and bringing voices of local communities and smallholders to the policymaking process. She also expressed her impression of the youth’s contribution by acting as a showcase to inspire responsible timber producers, traders and consumers.
Mr Richard Nguibourg King, the forestry department representative at the Cameroon Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, presented the Cameroonian Forest Information System (SIGIF2). The SIGIF2 was launched in 2021, which is one of the core elements of the Cameroonian TLAS. The private sector representative from Cameroon, Mr Nkie Laurent, gave an insight into how some Cameroonian enterprises have already established monitoring systems for legality and traceability and highlighted the relevance of private sector involvement in the envisaged cooperation on legal timber trade between the three countries. With his statement “the ball is on the playing field of Vietnam”, he urged Vietnam to enforce its new regulations for due diligence and border verification to support Cameroon’s efforts in only exporting legal timber.
Mr Khamfeua Sirivongs, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Forest Inspection at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Lao PDR shared key insights and updates on the Lao TLAS, which is currently under development as part of the FLEGT-VPA negotiation between Lao PDR and the EU. Mr Khamfeua highlighted that the development of the Lao TLAS has been integrated into the new Forestry Law of Lao PDR and therefore is the key to forest governance and legal timber supply for both domestic and export markets. He discussed combating illegal logging and promoting legal timber trade and sustainable forest management as critical incentives for Laos to join the FLEGT process and reassured its benefits for forest governance improvement and the country’s economic development.
Panellists’ contributions clearly showed that all countries remain committed to the FLEGT process. Moreover, although the three countries are at different stages of the VPA negotiations, they agreed to frequently exchange on their various systems to create a shared understanding of legal requirements.
To discuss further steps to pursue the collaboration, the Vietnamese delegation met with the delegations of Cameroon and Laos in separate meetings to exchange on the development of a Memorandum of Understanding that focuses explicitly on legal timber trade and forest governance by using their timber legality assurance systems as a framework for the future cooperation.
The event and the participation of the delegates were supported by various GIZ projects. focusing on supporting the VPA FLEGT processes. The projects are commissioned by the BMZ with co-funding from UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Since 2019, GIZ has supported the implementation of this co-financed project, “Support the national Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) processes in Vietnam, Laos and Cameroon”
The aim is to facilitate the exchange and collaboration between the three countries related to newly arising legal requirements that impact regional and international timber trade. Due to travel restrictions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, face-to-face exchanges and study tours had to be substituted by online and written exchanges in 2020 and 2021. Finally, delegations from all three countries could meet in person at the Word Forestry Congress (WFC) in Seoul, Korea.
 This includes the projects ‘Support to the FLEGT VPA implementation in Vietnam”, the Protection and Sustainable Use of Forest Ecosystems and Biodiversity (ProFEB) in Laos, Protecting forests and the environment (ProPFE) in Cameroon and “Support the implementation of the VPA FLEGT in Laos, Vietnam and Cameroon – towards legal timber supply chains” under the Global Project “Forests for Future (F4F)”