The legality of timber products in government procurement in Vietnam
The Voluntary Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Vietnam on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (VPA/FLEGT) took effect since June 1, 2019 with the core commitment of the agreement being "to ensure that all timber products are legally produced", which means all timber products in Vietnam, whether for exporting or domestic consumption, must be legally produced.
Under this agreement, the Vietnamese government, as a large customer, is responsible for ensuring the legality of timber products in the projects using the state's capital. This is a big challenge due to no solid, sufficient basis to determine whether the timber products in Vietnamese government procurement are legal.
The agreement is an important milestone in the process of implementing sustainable forest management as well as the sustainable development of the wood processing industry in Vietnam.
From the perspective of implementing the VPA-FLEGT commitment, ensuring the legality of imported and exported timber is relatively feasible as all wood and products imported or exported must pass through border control. Thus, competent authorities can check the legality of timber and wood products through mandatory control mechanisms.
Meanwhile, with domestic wood consumption, it is much more difficult to ensure the implementation of commitments, because there are no mechanisms that allow the control of the legality of wood and wood products before they reach local buyers. Therefore, one of the solutions is considered to be control by the buyers themselves. If the buyer requires legal timber, the timber business owner will have to ensure the legality of the products.
Nguyen Thi Thu Trang, director of the WTO and Integration Centre of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, stated that it is necessary to add a compulsory requirement to bidding files on proving the legality of goods and services provided.
On the other side, the person who prepared the bidding documents needs instructions, training, and attention on legal timber requirements in the procurement packages for the tenderers.
In addition, on the side of procurement, it is necessary to have proper communications campaigns to increase awareness of the requirements of timber materials and their legality.
According to the report from the research team, there are two groups of wood products that are bought the most: wood products for schools (boards, desks, chairs, cabinets, shelves, bookshelves, toys, and beds for boarding students) and office furniture (cabinets, tables, chairs for the office, hall, meeting room, engine room, curtains).
In the domestic timber market, the state is a special "buyer" in many respects. First, this is a large customer group, occupying a significant market share, with thousands of organs using state capital to purchase wood products. Second, this group of customers has a consistent procurement method under strictly controlled public procurement.
A survey of 100 bidding documents for the procurement of timber products by state-funded units in 2016-2018 shows that in fact, the bidders are very interested in the type of wood used and mainly require natural wood.
However, bidders rarely have any specific requirements about the legality of timber in addition to the mandatory sample provisions under the Law on Bidding.