VPA annex on the legality definition
The purpose of the VPA annex on the legality definition is to identify the national laws a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) partner country will use to indicate legality of timber, and describe the process for gathering evidence to monitor compliance with the laws.
The legality definition is central to a country's timber legality assurance system. Timber and timber products must comply with this definition in order to receive FLEGT licences. Although all VPAs have an annex on the legality assurance system, some countries put the legality definition in a separate annex.
The legality definition emerges from multistakeholder consultation early in a VPA process. As stakeholders have different interests, conflicts in a country's forest sector often come to the fore during this early consultation. The government of a timber-exporting country has the responsibility for fostering dialogue and building consensus among stakeholders in order for the multistakeholder consultation to clearly articulate:
- What a timber legality assurance system requires
- Which legal requirements need to be better enforced
- Which aspects of the legal framework need to be updated or altered
Scope of the legality definition
Part of the multistakeholder dialogue focuses on the scope of legality. This means deciding how to include different types of land use, such as natural forests or plantations, and different aspects of management such as allocating permits, selling rights or export procedures, in the legality definition. The aim of the dialogue is to produce a clear legal definition for which it is practical to verify compliance.
A legality definition that serves the interests of all stakeholder groups must cover more than just the legal rights to harvest and sell timber. The EU expects that a legality definition will cover the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social and environmental). Multistakeholder consultations provide opportunities to ensure that a legality definition is credible and serves the interests of all stakeholder groups.
The laws comprising a legality definition can include:
- A country's constitution
- National laws relating to forests, tax, trade, employment, environment, social security, biodiversity conservation and freedom of information
- Customary law
- International treaties, such as multilateral environmental agreements
VPAs define legality according to existing national laws and regulations. However, in some VPA processes, multistakeholder discussions on the legality definition have identified gaps or inconsistencies in existing laws. A VPA process can identify legal and/or policy reforms to address these gaps. Ghana includes reforms to address gaps in the annex on the legality definition. In other VPAs, the annex on accompanying measures details reforms.
Structure of the annex on the legality definition
Most VPAs include a table, called a legality grid or legality matrix, to present the definition of legality. The tables outline the legal requirements, usually called ‘indicators', which make up the legality definition. The tables also describe the means by which a national authority will verify legality.
VPA partner countries present information on legality in different ways according to their needs, circumstances and existing systems. As a result, an annex on the legality definition may include several legality matrices that apply different standards to different sources of timber, such as community forests, plantations or logging concessions. For example:
- Indonesia has several legality matrices for different kinds of rights holdings
- Cameroon has several legality matrices for different types of forests and selling rights
- Ghana has a single legality matrix that applies all along the supply chain for timber and to timber products from all types of forest
Legality matrices may seem complicated at first glance but provide clear information about what each element of legislation requires, what evidence is needed to show compliance and what aspects will be systematically monitored.
Note on naming annexes on the legality definition
The titles of annexes on the legality definition vary among VPAs. Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo, call the annexes ‘legality matrices'. The Central African Republic and Indonesia call the annexes the ‘legality definition', and Ghana calls the annex ‘legislation to be taken into account when defining legality'. Liberia includes its legality definition in the annex on the legality assurance system.