Vietnam a step closer to FLEGT VPA

After six years of negotiation, Vietnam looks next in line to ratify its Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) with the EU. 
That was the message from Brussels and Hanoi today, November 18, after an ‘agreement in principle’, between EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella and Vietnamese Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong, which effectively gave a FLEGT VPA the go ahead.  
An EU statement said the ‘substance of the deal’ was agreed and pending ‘technical, consistency and legal checks’ ratification is expected to start next year. 
The FLEGT VPA will see the implementation of a comprehensive timber legality assurance system, greater stakeholder engagement in the Vietnamese timber and forestry industry, and establishment of a monitoring and auditing framework.  Once these are complete and authorised by EU and Vietnamese authorities, the country will be able to FLEGT licence its exports to the EU, exempting them from further due diligence by operator importers.
The aim of the measure is to combat illegal logging and illegal timber trade out of Vietnam. And the focus is not just on timber and wood products based on material from its own forests, but also the major volumes it imports from around 80 countries across the rest of Asia and further afield and then processes and re-exports as finished goods. 
The VPA covers all major timber and wood product groups exported to the EU and Vietnam will also undertake to apply its legality assurance standard and systems to domestic timber and wood product sales and exports to other markets.
Vietnam’s wood-based exports to the EU in 2014 were worth around $705 million dollars, or between a quarter and a fifth of its total. This puts it third after the US and China as the country’s most important timber export market, and its sales there in the first eight months of last year were reported at US$436 million.
"Vietnam and the EU today celebrate a milestone in their cooperation in the global fight to end illegal logging," said Commissioner Vella, announcing today’s agreement. "Now we must focus on implementation to ensure that the VPA delivers on its social, environmental and economic goals.”
He added that the VPA would require ‘credible and robust systems involving all stakeholders and including effective mechanisms to detect violations and ensure law enforcement’.
“The EU will continue to support Vietnam's efforts in this regard,” he said, “and we will be monitoring closely how it works to implement the VPA.”
Vietnam is one of 15 countries currently negotiating or implementing FLEGT VPAS. Three days ago, on November 15, Indonesia became the first to complete implementation and start issuing FLEGT licences. Its first licensed shipments are en route and expected in the EU in coming weeks.