Just over a year ago (as you may remember from my blog) I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference devoted to the EU’s initiative to address illegal logging, the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan.
The Action Plan is the world’s first attempt to harness the power of trade to root out illegal logging, using a mix of supply and demand measures. Its key elements include the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between the EU and timber producing countries outside the EU.
On the demand side, since March 2013 the EUTR prohibits the placing of illegal timber on the EU market. It requires companies to undertake 'due diligence' (i.e. a risk management exercise) to minimise the risk of using illegally-harvested timber.
On the supply side, the EU works with VPA partner countries to strengthen forest governance, promote better law enforcement and develop systems to assure the legality of their timber so they can issue verified legal exports with ‘FLEGT licences’. In addition to the broad benefits in terms of governance, one of the advantage is that FLEGT licences automatically meet the EUTR’s requirements, thus saving companies the cost of due diligence.
As I wrote last March, 2016 is a critical year for FLEGT for two reasons:
First, just last month, Indonesia cleared the last hurdle before FLEGT-licencing – a world first. The EU and Indonesia have announced their readiness to start the first ever FLEGT licensing system, and as soon as the procedure on the EU side will be completed, we will see the first shipments of FLEGT-licensed timber. This milestone in the FLEGT experiment is the strongest sign yet that, by harnessing the power of the EU market, it is possible to improve forest governance and assure buyers that timber products comply fully with laws in their countries of origin.
Secondly, we have completed an independent evaluation of the FLEGT Action Plan. The independent evaluation, published today, has concluded that the EU FLEGT Action Plan is a relevant and innovative response to the challenge of illegal logging and that it has led to major improvements in forest governance around the world.
FLEGT is good news for business both in the EU and in producing countries – knowledge that timber is from legal sources will increase consumer confidence and boost demand. The evaluation also concludes that FLEGT has helped reduce demand for illegal timber in the EU.
The report’s findings and recommendations will guide the European Commission in improving the efficiency and value-for-money of future work under the EU FLEGT Action Plan. The report will also guide the EC in shaping policies to address deforestation. FLEGT will remain a central instrument to meet our commitments under the international climate change and Sustainable Development Goals agendas.
Momentum is building for EU action against illegal logging. We have seen an increase in EUTR enforcement by EU member states and EU operators are increasingly scrutinising their supply chains to ensure that illegal timber does not enter the EU market. There has also been great progress in VPA negotiations with countries such as Honduras, Guyana and Vietnam. Meanwhile, it is not only Indonesia that has made significant progress towards the start of FLEGT licensing. Ghana has also entered advanced stages of VPA implementation.
The evaluation found that the EU FLEGT Action Plan continues to be fully relevant but needs to address new challenges, in particular with regard to deforestation and forest conversion. It recommends that the main pillars and action areas should be retained, but support to producing countries should be delivered in a more demand-driven and flexible manner, while bottlenecks affecting VPAs should be addressed and the private sector more involved. It finds that the Action Plan has not been implemented in a sufficiently balanced manner and that strategic
Direction, management and outcome monitoring also need strengthening. The Commission will be factoring these in order to update its approach to FLEGT and enhancing its effectiveness in the future.
Last year I said I was proud of this ground-breaking scheme. Today, I think that all of us in the EU and our VPA partner countries can all be proud. FLEGT is at the forefront of the fight against illegal logging. Of course, there is much more work to be done, but as the evaluation and experiences on the ground show, FLEGT is on the right track.