Laos, EU negotiating partnership on legal timber agreement
Lao officials in cooperation with the European Unions sat down on Friday for the first negotiations towards a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT).
The government has prepared for almost seven years to enter into this partnership agreement and is now hoping to formalise an agreement with the EU on the matter next year.
Laos and the EU began a process to move towards negotiation of a VPA in 2012 and the prime minister approved formal negotiations in 2015.
The prime minister also established a National Steering Committee for the VPA, giving Lao civil society organisations a historic opportunity to engage in dialogue on policies that affect forest governance.
Ultimately, the purpose of the VPA is to ensure that timber and timber products exported to the EU are derived from legal sources.
When Laos signs on to the agreement, it will provide opportunities for Lao wood processing businesses to access markets in the EU, Japan, America and Australia as well as promoting investment in the wood processing industry for domestic supply and export.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Dr Phouangparisak Pravongviengkham, who is Laos’ Chief Negotiator for the Lao-EU FLEGT VPA, said “Laos chose to enter the VPA process to improve its law enforcement, capacity and the overall governance regime in the forest sector.”
“The agreement 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 improve local livelihoods through better management of the country’s forests,” he said.
The agreement aims at establishing a system to certify the legality of timber products harvested and exported and thereby improve forest government and combat illegal logging as well as promote trade in legal Lao timber products.
The engagement in a FLEGT VPA process with the EU is part of the strong commitment by the government to combat illegal logging and its devastating social, economic and environmental impacts with forest-sector reforms through the implementation of Prime Ministerial Order No. 15, which is providing a strong basis for achieving these goals.
Negotiations were preceded by extensive preparations and technical work at the national level through a multi-stakeholder process. The main focus of the negotiations centred around discussions of the future product scope of the agreement and on defining legality for timber from various sources.
Following thenegotiations in Vientiane, work will continue on defining legality and on developing supply chain controls and procedures for verifying that timber ready for export is legal.
“By starting FLEGT VPA negotiations with the EU, Laos demonstrates its strong commitment to sustainable forest management and joins a coalition of countries that are fighting illegal logging and improving forest governance,” the EU Ambassador to Laos Mr Leo Faber 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 that illegal logging causes,” he added.