National VPA negotiating structures
In the negotiation phase of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process, the government of a timber-exporting country uses the structures it has created to:
- Develop and articulate negotiating positions
- Engage the EU in bilateral negotiations
- Draft the text of a VPA and its annexes
Each country creates negotiating structures according to its context and needs. As a result, negotiating structures vary from country to country. In most VPA processes, a minister or other representative of the ministry responsible for forests leads a negotiating team or committee. The negotiating team receives technical and political input from other structures and stakeholders to frame negotiating positions.
To date, national negotiating structures in VPA processes have included representatives from several government ministries. This is because several ministries are stakeholders with important interests in the VPA process. In addition, the laws and regulations that make up a country's legality definition fall under several ministerial jurisdictions.
Stakeholder representation in national negotiating structures
In most countries that have engaged in VPA negotiations, representatives of the private sector and civil society organisations have participated in the negotiations. Participation has been achieved either through membership of the negotiating team and/or its technical advisory committee, or through consultation processes. For example:
- In the Republic of the Congo, the government not only created a multistakeholder negotiation and steering committee team to draft and consolidate positions, but also established a multistakeholder ‘general assembly'. The general assembly discussed negotiating positions with a wide group of stakeholders (100 representatives from the private sector, civil society and government). The assembly was a mechanism to enable interaction and dialogue in order to reach consensus.
- In Ghana, Liberia and the Republic of the Congo, steering committees set up multistakeholder working groups to draft annexes to the VPA text, such as those on the legality definition or the timber legality assurance system. In other countries, steering committees employed experts or consultants to draft annexes.
- Liberia is currently the only country to have involved community representatives in a negotiating structure, giving them seven seats on the technical steering committee.
Some countries struggle to ensure stakeholder participation in negotiating structures. Experience shows, however, that such representation helps negotiations and adds credibility to a VPA. Without multistakeholder participation:
- Decisions have less input from stakeholders and risk being rejected later
- The flow of information between stakeholders and government is limited
Experience also shows that participation works best when stakeholders choose their own representatives. In some countries, the government chose a civil society representative for the multistakeholder negotiation team. In each case, it became clear that the appointee did not have the support of their constituency. Learning from this, governments removed their appointees and asked civil society organisations to choose their own representatives.