This week, I had the pleasure to take part in an event about legal logging and timber imports; part of a week of activities focusing on the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative.
Forests are central to human development and the green economy; to global efforts to combat climate change and preserve biodiversity, and are also a key economic resource, as they generate jobs and incomes, often in poor rural areas. Yet, illegal logging continues to have a devastating impact on some of the world’s most valuable forests and the 1 billion or so people who depend on them.
As one of the biggest global markets for timber, the EU is part of both the problem and the solution. That is why I am proud of this ground-breaking scheme. Since FLEGT began, six timber-producing countries have signed Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with the EU and are currently developing the systems needed to control, verify and license legal timber. Nine more countries are in negotiations with the EU. VPAs have proven to be powerful tools in improving forest governance. They clarify legal frameworks, stimulate reforms and promote transparency and participation in decision-making. Through a process of gradual change they are expected to have positive and long-lasting impacts.
It’s clear that good forest governance and law enforcement are both requisites for the success for any efforts to address the causes of deforestation. And FLEGT is precisely about putting these enabling conditions in place. By linking responsible trade, governance and development and by bringing together the efforts of governments, the private sector and civil society, in the EU and in partner countries, I hope that FLEGT can inspire future initiatives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. It can also bring significant co-benefits in the fight against organised crime, which is increasingly associated with illegal harvesting and wildlife crime, threatening peace and stability in many timber-producing countries.
This week’s event has been very productive, thanks to the presence of representatives from government, business and civil society in Europe, and timber-producing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. And also very timely: 2015 and 2016 are critical years for this initiative – as the first FLEGT licences in the EU market are expected in 2016; and with the first evaluation of the FLEGT Action Plan currently under way. I am sure this is going to be a turning point in the FLEGT process to further capitalise on its success.
I’m happy to underline my support for FLEGT this week. After all, it’s not just about the legality of timber and trade, it’s also about transparency and accountability, about policy reform and about equitable use of natural resources. Something which I hope that everyone can support.