Laos latest to open formal EU FLEGT VPA negotiations

Laos has held its first formal negotiations with the EU with a view to signing an EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA).
A VPA will pledge the country to establish a framework to assure timber legality. Once this is complete, it will then be able to issue FLEGT licences for timber and wood products exports, with licensed goods gaining exemption from the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR).
The Laos government has already committed to a range of measures to combat illegal logging and to implementing significant forest sector reform under its Prime Minister Order 15. 
The meeting with officials from the European Commission's Directorate-General for the Environment followed extensive preparations, and the key topics discussed were the product scope of the Agreement and defining timber legality.
The latter, the design of Laos’s timber legality assurance system and its approach to other VPA commitments will now be developed through multi-stakeholder negotiation involving government, private sector and civil society.
“Laos chose to enter the VPA process to improve law enforcement and the overall governance regime in the forest sector,” said Dr Phouangparisak Pravongviengkham, Vice- Minister of Agriculture and Forestry and Laos Chief Negotiator for Lao-EU FLEGT VPA. “The VPA will also help Laos to enhance its industry’s capacity for value-added wood processing and increase access to regional and EU timber markets, as well as to improve local livelihoods through better management of forests.”
Ambassador Leo Faber, head of the EU Delegation to Laos responded that by starting FLEGT VPA negotiations, Laos demonstrated its commitment to sustainable forest management.
“It joins a coalition of countries that are fighting illegal logging and improving forest governance,” he said. “Fifteen countries are now negotiating or implementing VPAs with the EU and momentum is building. Together, the EU and our partners, are harnessing the power of trade to address the social, economic and environmental problems illegal logging causes.”
Both the EU and Laos delegations recognised that VPA negotiations and implementation would be a ‘long-term undertaking’, with the consensus required among stakeholders in particular taking time to develop.