The tropical rainforests covering vast tracts of the Republic of Congo (RoC) are being chopped down at a startling rate. As they vanish, the people living in them fall deeper into poverty and global climate change accelerates. There is hope that an innovative yet little-known trade agreement between the RoC and the European Union (EU) to export timber products will help halt the tide of destruction and improve the lives of the forests’ inhabitants.
In 2010 the EU and the Republic of Congo signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), a legally-binding deal recognising the rights of forest communities and outlawing illegally sourced timber. The agreement is one of several that the EU has either signed or is negotiating with timber producing countries in Africa, Asia and South America under its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. If successful, these agreements will revolutionise how the world’s largest tropical rainforests are run.
In the RoC, implementation of the VPA has led to civil society being involved in reform of the country’s forest code, which will give them a say in how the forests are run for the first time. This is a remarkable achievement in a nation where the voices of civil society are not usually heard.