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FLEGT awareness raising key, say Ghana consultations

Oct 24, 2022 | Surveys & Project News

Ghana sharing VPA experience with Laos and Congo Republic. Photo: IMM

With the qualification that it could be better disseminated, Ghana timber sector stakeholders rate the work of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Independent Market Monitor (FLEGT IMM) positively. They see its function – tracking timber trade flows from countries in EU FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) and other tropical suppliers and reporting on EU market impacts and opinions of FLEGT licensing – as having value for Ghana as it progresses through its own VPA. They believe the IMM’s outputs can grow in significance for the country when it starts FLEGT licensing and see scope for its role to broaden in terms of increasing market awareness and understanding of the FLEGT initiative.

So said representatives of Ghanaian civil society organisations (CSOs) and government agencies taking part in IMM consultations in August as well as Ghanaian timber producers who were interviewed separately by the IMM Ghana correspondent.

The online meetings followed consultations in Jakarta, Indonesia and Nantes, France, attended by representatives of civil society, public and private sectors. The objective of the discussions is to ascertain views on the value and quality of the IMM’s work. The aim is also to gauge opinion on whether the role of the IMM should continue beyond December 2022, when the International Tropical Timber Organisation’s contract with the EU to manage it ends and, if so, how it should develop.

IMM data sources expected to become more relevant once Ghana starts FLEGT licensing

Ghanaian stakeholders showed strong awareness of the IMM’s annual survey of their timber sector and its annual report, including EU country surveys and market analysis. They knew less, however, about some of its other activities and outputs, which include special sectoral reports on a range of topics, such as EU public and private sector procurement policy, the furniture sector architectural specification and timber promotion campaigns and the extent to which they acknowledge FLEGT licensing. Awareness of the IMM Data Dashboard and the STIX database, which allow user-friendly access to trade data from the world’s largest timber producing and consuming countries, was also relatively low. The broad view was that this depth of information would become more important to Ghana when it starts FLEGT licensing.

This point was picked up by Ghana consultation participants. “We need the empirical data IMM provides,” said a representative in the government session. “It enables us to keep an eye on market changes and developments in EU policy. It’s also valuable in terms of relaying views of buyers and government agencies on FLEGT. These are all good for us to know and, when Ghana starts licensing, will help us address any lack of understanding in the market.”

 Additional distribution channels recommended

In common with those at Jakarta and Nantes consultations, all stakeholder groups in Ghana felt IMM outputs might get more pick-up and awareness if its in-depth reports were complemented with more news bulletins and concise, summarised reviews of analysis.

 “Businesses need information they can assimilate quickly,” said one delegate. The view was that the IMM could also make greater use of social media and set up a mobile app to deliver bulletins on key topics.

An aspect that gave the IMM’s especial value, it was felt, was its independence.

“We need a body with no vested interest providing data and analysis and informing policy,” said a government consultation delegate. “It’s valuable for the development of the international forest process. It’s important the integrity of the dialogue is sustained, lest we’re diverted by research with [no basis] in what’s happening on the ground.”

It was stressed that it was not the IMM’s mandate to promote the FLEGT programme, but to report independently on its perceived impacts and value in the context of international trade flows.

Participants highlight the perceived value of their VPA

“How do we synchronise evidence we’re seeing [on the ground] with the FLEGT/EUTR Fitness Check’s conclusions,” said a civil society delegate.  “How do we work with [the EU] to make them understand the value of our FLEGT VPA and its benefits. For instance, an independent impact assessment in Ghana has followed forest governance developments since 2008 against 13 criteria. In 2008 performance was moderate against one of the criteria and weak against the rest. In 2021, after Ghana’s progress through the VPA process, performance was rated strong against six indicators and weak to moderately strong against six. It was only weak against one and this is being addressed.”

Such findings, they felt, don’t seem to be acknowledged enough in EU decision making.

One participant maintained that, due to its VPA, the performance of “Ghana’s wood and forest process systems across all critical control points is amazing”. “Voluntary third-party certification schemes just don’t have [the benefits of a VPA] system’s national coverage, where everything is accounted for – every tree.”

 VPA partners should be represented in IMM’s PSC, say participants

It was also felt by stakeholders that the IMM’s project steering committee, currently comprising EU and ITTO representatives, along with EFI and FAO, should include VPA partner members to ensure their needs are taken into account in its development.

Areas the IMM could address going forward, said participants, include perceived discrepancies between EU national government timber import policy, despite common obligations under the EUTR. “There’s a lack of uniform procedure for receiving timber that needs resolving,” said one delegate. 

Others recommended that it look at certification schemes’ views on FLEGT VPAs and the complementarity of their approaches.

The other role delegates felt the IMM should take on, is to increase market knowledge and appreciation of the role of FLEGT VPAs and licensing.

“In order to stimulate the whole system, the IMM should continue in a wider way in terms of informing stakeholders of what is being done and achieved,” said one participant.

Another added that currently buyers opted for certified timber over FLEGT-licensed ‘not through any deficiency in FLEGT, but because they settled for what they know’.

“More communication is needed about the quality of a FLEGT licence,” they said. “Awareness is limited by the fact that only Indonesia is licensing, so more needs to be done to let the market know what we’re talking about. And as market reception for licensed timber warms, other suppliers will be encouraged to progress their VPAs and start licensing. We must support the market for FLEGT-licensed timber.” “FLEGT needs apostles,” agreed another delegate.

More information required about EU deforestation regulation

Participants at all 2022 IMM stakeholder consultation raised concerns over the draft EU regulation for deforestation-free imports. In its proposed form, this would maintain a FLEGT Licence’s proof of legality status, but under its terms, licensed goods would no longer have a due diligence-free ‘green’ track into the EU.

Some Ghanaian stakholders said this raised question marks over FLEGT, but there was relatively low awareness of the implications of the proposed regulation. The general opinion was that Ghana should in any case press on to achieve licensing status.  

Germany, Belgium and Italy are Ghana’s biggest EU export destinations

Besides gauging perceptions of its activities, the Ghana stakeholder consultations allowed the IMM to present latest findings from its trade surveys, data analysis and reports and broad conclusions from its work over the years.

IMM market analyst George White addressed developments in Ghanaian timber trade against the backdrop of the of the global tropical and wider wood market. After falling to $203 million in 2020, when trade was hit hardest by Covid, Ghana’s timber exports recovered in 2021. They remained down on 2019, but rose to $240 million. Logs remained the biggest export commodity, but with paper rising strongly into second place, possibly, said Mr White, due to the country acting as regional export hub. Next came sawnwood and veneer.

There has been a shift in Ghana’s export market composition recently, notably in trade with fellow African states. These now account for 32% of its foreign timber sales, up from 9% in 2016.  In the same period, Ghanaian exports to India rose from 19% to 26% of its total, and to the EU from 10% to 15%. China’s share fell from 37% to 16%. Germany remains Ghana’s biggest EU export destination, followed by Belgium, Italy, and France, with sawnwood comprising the biggest element of EU sales, followed by veneer and secondary wood products.

65% of timber exports from lower to middle income (LMI) producer countries, such as Ghana, are now destined for countries requiring proof of import legality. This can be a potential positive for suppliers with timber legality assurance systems (TLAS) in place.

“That more markets are scrutinizing wood imports should give countries, which have addressed forest governance and legality, cause for optimism,” said Mr White

While the war in Ukraine had resulted in spiraling energy costs and economic uncertainty, it was means that the resulting EU embargoes on Russian and Belarusian timber and wood products and restrictions on Ukrainian exports open opportunities for other suppliers. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have been supplying the EU with around $6 billion of timber goods annually.