Experiences to date show that negotiating and implementing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) deliver tangible achievements. The VPA text and annexes describe outputs that parties commit to realising. Other achievements result from the process itself. The annual reports of VPA joint implementation committees describe how each VPA contributes to such achievements, which can include the following:
Participatory decision making
The EU advocates for broad stakeholder participation in negotiating and implementing a VPA to ensure the agreement is credible and country-owned. Ultimately, national governments are responsible for deciding how stakeholders will participate in the process. However, the expectation that processes will be participatory and the emphasis on consensus mean that VPA processes are making huge strides in creating space for multistakeholder decision making. Participation may take different forms as a VPA process progresses.
- Pre-negotiation phase. In VPA processes to date, governments have consulted stakeholders before deciding to enter negotiations with the EU. Consultation continues into later phases of the VPA process if negotiations go ahead.
- Negotiation phase. Stakeholders participate in formal or informal structures, such as stakeholder platforms, multistakeholder steering committees and national negotiating teams. In all VPAs signed to date, partner countries have decided to involve representatives of the private sector and civil society organisations in negotiating structures.
- Implementation phase. All VPAs to date include an article in the main text that outlines expectations for stakeholder participation in the implementation of the agreement. Participation may take the form of representation on joint implementation committees and national structures set up to implement a VPA and/or monitor impacts.
VPAs are the first trade agreements to be developed through inclusive multistakeholder processes. In many timber-exporting countries that have entered into VPA negotiations there has never before been such an inclusive, participatory process.
Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on how a VPA increases participation.
Timber legality assurance system
The timber legality assurance system is the backbone of a VPA and enables partner countries to:
- Define legal timber
- Control the supply chain of timber and wood products from forests to ports
- Verify the legality of timber
- Issue FLEGT licences for legal products
- Subject the entire timber legality assurance system to independent auditing
Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on Timber legality assurance systems.
Trade in FLEGT-licensed products
VPAs aim to promote legal trade in timber and timber products by bringing FLEGT-licensed products to the EU market. In addition, VPAs can also affect trade to non-EU markets. To date, all VPAs have covered all of a partner country's exports, and not just those to the EU. Most VPAs have also include timber traded in domestic markets. The annual reports of joint implementation committees established by each VPA state the number of FLEGT licences that a partner-country has issued and the number of licences that the EU has received. In addition, the EU has appointed an independent market monitor to analyse the impacts of VPAs and FLEGT licensing on the timber trade.
Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on Trade in FLEGT-licensed products.
Legislative and policy reform
VPAs depend on the ability of all stakeholders to interpret the laws relating to the forest sector clearly. However, in VPA processes to date, national deliberations have identified problems with legal clarity and areas of law stakeholders would like to change. Problems include inconsistencies or gaps in laws relating to the forest sector that make it difficult to determine what is legal. Other problems occur where laws are good but poorly enforced. Stakeholders may also consider some laws to be unjust because enforcement penalises the poor. In some cases, VPA processes have led to legislative and/or policy reform. The extent of reform varies greatly. Some countries insist that existing laws are satisfactory. In other countries, the process has led to:
- Policy renewal
- Enabling legislation for FLEGT licensing
- Broader legal reform to address weaknesses
Read more on this topic in the section on how a VPA can increase legislative and institutional clarity.
A VPA process can enhance the capacity of institutions and individuals in stakeholder groups to collectively:
- Regulate, control and verify compliance
- Enforce law
- Self-organise and engage
- Comply and adapt business functions
- Engage in advocacy
- Perform independent observation
- Monitor impacts
- Coordinate across government
During VPA processes, for instance, international finance or domestic programmes may support training that strengthens the capacity of stakeholders to understand and participate in VPA negotiations. Most VPAs also set out additional capacity-building needs in annexes on accompanying measures.
Domestic market measures
In many tropical countries, domestic timber markets are informal and unregulated. While these markets provide livelihoods for many people, they are often characterised by illegality. This illegality may be because of poor legislation, poor control, limited capacities or deliberate criminal activity. This means domestic timber markets often fail to generate revenue for the state. In many countries, growing informal domestic markets are larger than markets for industrial, export-oriented timber. Some countries have chosen to use a VPA as a tool to address the challenges posed by unregulated informal domestic trade in timber and timber products. In these cases, VPAs may lead to changes in policies or laws, or to the structure and organisation of domestic markets. However, addressing informal markets is not straightforward, as stakeholders are dispersed, not organised and difficult to engage, especially if they are currently illegal.
Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on domestic market measures in VPAs.
Transparency enables citizens to hold governments, companies and communities accountable for managing and using forest resources. In many timber-exporting countries, problems such as lost rent and tax revenues, corruption, unsustainable or illegal logging, and negative impacts on communities that depend on forests persist because of a lack of transparency. A VPA, therefore, has components that seek to improve transparency, such as:
- Broad stakeholder participation
- Independent auditing of the timber legality assurance system
- Provision for independent forest monitoring
- Public disclosure of information as specified in the main text of a VPA or an annex on public information
- Public disclosure of information during the VPA process, such as through summaries, press releases, a website or public meetings
- Publication of annual reports by a joint implementation committee
Early action to strengthen transparency during VPA negotiations has improved dialogue among stakeholders and set the stage for further improvement during the implementation phase. The ultimate success of a VPA in improving transparency depends on its implementation.
Read more on this topic in the section on how a VPA can increase transparency.
Communication in VPA processes takes several forms, in addition to a partner country government's commitment to make information public to improve transparency. Some VPAs include plans for communication strategies to provide stakeholders and the wider public with information about the VPA, its outputs and its impacts. Communication may include outreach to communities that depend on forests, national businesses involved in the timber trade and European timber buyers. Such communications help to maintain stakeholder engagement and commitment during the implementation phase and beyond.
Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on communication in VPA processes.
A joint implementation committee ensures that parties implement the VPA. The committee is also responsible for monitoring the economic, social and environmental impacts of a VPA, and for dealing with any complaints or failure to comply with the VPA. The committee receives and validates reports from the independent auditor of the timber legality assurance system and, if there is one, the independent observer. In addition, the EU appoints an independent market monitor to assess the impacts of trade in FLEGT-licensed timber on timber markets.
Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on VPA monitoring.
Broader reforms and impacts
A VPA may affect or inspire broader governance reforms beyond the reforms framed in the text and annexes. For example, a VPA may lead to action that reduces poverty or corruption, or to land reform and other changes. VPAs may also complement other initiatives, such as REDD+ and institutional reform in the forest sector, or inspire action in sectors such as mining or agriculture.
Related sections of VPA Unpacked
Liberia-EU. 2012. Progress Report: Moving Towards VPA Implementation. Preparation for the Implementation of the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement. 2011-2012. [Download PDF]
Ghana-EU. 2012. Annual Report 2012: Implementing the Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement [Download PDF]
Cameroon-EU. 2013. Joint Annual Report 2013: On the Implementation of the FLEGT VPA in Cameroon [Download PDF; in French]
Bollen, A. and Ozinga, S. 2013. Improving Forest Governance. A Comparison of FLEGT VPAs and Their Impact. FERN. 50pp. [Download PDF]
Disclaimer. The content of VPA Unpacked is based on lessons and experiences captured and described by the EU FLEGT Facility and therefore is the sole responsibility of the Facility. For comments or questions, please contact the EU FLEGT Facility at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© European Forest Institute 2020