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What is a VPA? Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) are a key element of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan to curb illegal logging. Each VPA is a bilateral trade agreement negotiated between the EU and a timber exporting country outside the EU. If the parties to the VPA enter into the agreement voluntarily, it becomes legally binding as soon as it is ratified by each party. The aim of a VPA is to ensure that timber and timber products from a partner country, which are imported by the EU, comply with the laws of that country. In order to achieve this, partner countries must first determine the elements of the national legal framework that will be used to define legality for the purposes of the VPA.

They must also have a system in place to ensure legal compliance and to issue the FLEGT licences that will accompany legal products, which should be described in the text and annexes of the VPA. In most cases countries will build on their existing systems to achieve this. The system for verifying the legality of timber linked to a VPA should also be independently verified to ensure that it operates as described. Under the EU Timber Regulation, products accompanied by FLEGT licences can gain full access to the EU market. However, importers must exercise due diligence to prove the legality of timber products without FLEGT licences. At the time of writing, six partner countries have signed VPAs with the EU: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia and Republic of Congo. These countries are in the process of developing the systems under their respective VPAs. Negotiations are ongoing between the EU and nine other countries: Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guyana, Honduras, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. A further 11 countries in Africa, Asia and Central and South America have expressed interest in establishing a VPA. What are the distinctive features of a VPA? A VPA differs from a traditional bilateral trade agreement in several ways. Firstly, if the EU and the government of the country concerned negotiate the VPA, the elements of the agreement are determined in the partner country through a process of consultation and deliberation involving stakeholders from the state apparatus, the private sector and civil society. This means, for example, that national stakeholders decide how they want to define legal timber, based on the laws of the country. Secondly, unlike most other trade agreements, both negotiating parties are seeking to achieve the same objectives: the elimination of illegal timber and improved forest governance. The third point is that a VPA integrates legal and governance reforms into its processes and texts. These are the reforms that stakeholders consider necessary to establish the credibility of a VPA. This means that a VPA can improve transparency, accountability and participation in decision-making processes. For all these reasons, the unique combination of trade levers and governance reforms and the multi-stakeholder approach to negotiation and implementation provided by a VPA can meet social and environmental as well as economic objectives.


The Voluntary Partnership Agreement on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade.

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