Workshop 3 of the First IMM Trade Consultation held in London on 8 March 2018 involved a multi-national discussion of the status of FLEGT licensing as a criterion in government timber procurement policy (TPP). It also looked at prospects and methods for licensing to achieve greater and more widespread recognition in TPP in the future.
The UK is pledged to incorporate the EU Timber Regulation and EU FLEGT and FLEGT licensing rules in its statutes post-Brexit, according to Therese Coffey, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the contentious issue of whether the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) should broaden in scope to encompass more timber and wood product imports to the EU.
EUTR authorities in Nordic and Baltic countries are involved in a collaborative project to assess and monitor Chinese timber and wood product imports. The first phase of the project, which ran until July 2017, aimed at improving understanding of Chinese supply chains, experience sharing between EU and EEA countries and cross checking Chinese export documents through sharing customs data.
The question whether FLEGT-licensed timber should be considered “a step backwards” compared to timber certified by voluntary third-party schemes was frequently raised as a part of IMM 2017 interviews. It’s a difficult question to answer at the global level, as the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process determines legality rather than sustainability per se. There is, however, a measure of common ground between the various VPAs currently being implemented or under negotiation and some unique achievements under the VPA process that show that FLEGT-licensed timber is “more than just legal”.
Vietnamese VPA expected to create positive regional dynamics
IMM spoke with Edwin Shanks, VPA Joint Implementation Coordinator for Vietnam, about latest developments in the country. Vietnam is regarded as a processing hub in the timber sector in Southeast Asia and is an important supplier, in particular of indoor and outdoor furniture, for the EU market. In 2015, Vietnam exported timber and timber products to 106 countries worldwide with a total export value of around $6.8. The country imports roughly 40% of its wood requirements,
The European Commission has developed an IT system named FLEGIT/TRACES to support the implementation of FLEGT Licensing Scheme in the EU. FLEGIT allows importers to electronically submit a FLEGT Licence to a Competent Authority and enables the electronic and fast validation of the FLEGT Licence by the Competent Authorities and subsequent clearance by the Customs.
The FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) initiative involves negotiations and programs in 15 tropical counties which together supply over 80% of the international tropical timber trade, by value. While the time taken by countries to reach the licensing stage has been a focus for criticism, a long lead time is inevitable for an initiative which aims to create robust and reliable systems, to engage with and secure the support of a wide range of stakeholders and to deal with complex political and technical issues. Progress varies between countries but there are many encouraging developments.
Ghana and the EC have started a cargo shipment test to evaluate export and import procedures in preparation for the transport of Ghanaian FLEGT licensed timber and wood products to various EU destinations. The main aim is to identify and recommend corrective actions for any shortcomings that might hinder efficient processing of export/import documents and thus the flow of FLEGT-licensed wood product exports.
New legislation on conversion of concessions has passed Parliament
Ghana has progressed farthest on the path to FLEGT-licensing among the five African countries implementing a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU. In early November, long-awaited new legislation dealing with the conversion of several timber harvesting concessions to Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs), among other things, has passed parliament. This means that a number of administrative and technical processes that were stalled due to the absence of this law can now be implemented. Ghana still has some technical and administrative hurdles to overcome before it can start FLEGT-licensing, but the goal is slowly coming within reach.
A year on since Indonesia began FLEGT licensing timber exports to the EU, and one EU FLEGT national Competent Authority (CA) commented that introduction of the licensing system had been ‘remarkably smooth and uneventful’. This seems to be the consensus among most Indonesian exporters and EU importers and their respective authorities. At the same time, perhaps inevitably for any new administrative system, particularly one that involves an international spread of businesses and authorities and so many different products, both parties agree that there have been some initial issues with implementation and operational teething problems.
A quick guide to how the VPA was implemented and works
When Indonesia started issuing FLEGT licences last November, verifying the legality of its timber exports to the EU prior to despatch, it was billed as a milestone in global efforts to combat illegal logging and illegal wood products trade. Since then the country and its FLEGT licensing system has attracted attention from across the global timber trading community and interested parties, mainly from Indonesia’s export markets and other countries engaged in the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement initiative (FLEGT VPA), but not exclusively.