The European Union and Liberia team up to ensure legal origin of imported wood products to the EU
By early 2014, all shipments of wood products to the European Union from Liberia will be required to carry a license certifying their legal origin. A Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to that end was signed on 9 May by the EU and Liberia, which contains over half of the remaining rainforest in West Africa. This agreement underpins Liberia’s ongoing forestry reforms, driven by the Government's commitment to good governance and to ensuring that natural resources contribute to sustainable development. The agreement also gives European consumers the assurance that wood products imported from Liberia, including furniture and wood chips used for bio-fuel, are of legal origin. The Agreement comes in result of the strong mutual commitment to eradicate illegal logging and to bring more transparency to the timber trade.
European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs commented: I am pleased to see that yet another country joins our common fight against illegal logging. This commitment will contribute to sustainable development and poverty alleviation in Liberia on the one hand, and will benefit the European consumers because they can be sure that Liberian wood is legal.”
It is the sixth in a series of bilateral accords that are negotiated between the EU and timber producing countries (agreements have been agreed most recently with Indonesia, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Ghana).
Agreement with Liberia
Under the agreement, Liberia intends to set up a national system to ensure legal compliance in timber production, covering all wood products destined for the EU as well as those sold on the domestic market and to non-EU markets. The EU at the same time will guarantee unrestricted access to its market for all wood products coming from Liberia. These stronger control systems will also enable Liberia to stop illegal deforestation and environmental degradation that contribute to climate change.
Globally, between 20% and 40% of industrial wood production, valued at an estimated $10 billion a year is derived from illegal sources, and up to 20% finds its way into the EU.
Illegal logging was rampant during Liberia's prolonged civil war in the 1990s and timber revenues were used to sustain the conflict. The World Bank estimated that corruption linked to the industry may have cost Liberia as much as half the entire country’s budget, evading payments of an estimated $200 million. This led to the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on all timber exports from Liberia in 2003.
Since then, Liberia has made significant efforts to reform the sector. This included a comprehensive reform of the law, development of a national timber traceability system to track timber production and payment of revenues and institutional reform. Liberia was the first country to include timber revenues under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and was the first African country to achieve EITI compliance in 2008. In recognition of the progress made, the UN lifted sanctions in 2006, opening the way for Liberia to rebuild its forest sector. The VPA partnership with the EU aims to strengthen these efforts: to strengthen governance and law enforcement and, through a licensing system, provide assurance that its timber has been legally produced.
Timber exports once accounted for more than 20% of Liberia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and EU countries were a major destination for Liberia’s timber accounting for more than half of exports in 2003.
The Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade VPA provides a way by which Liberia can simultaneously address illegal logging, improve management and strengthen market opportunities for its timber products. This trend is reflected in new legislation in the EU and US that prohibits the sale of illegally harvested timber and products made from illegal timber. Other consumer markets are expected to follow, making legality verification an important part of the global marketing of timber products.
Negotiations of the agreement between Liberia and the EU started in 2009 and have actively engaged civil society, community and private sector representatives. A national wood traceability system is already in place and will be further developed to meet the more comprehensive requirements.