As a decision regarding the future of Cameroon’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) approaches, parties are assessing the VPA’s effectiveness and achievements and exploring all possible options. Cameroon’s VPA - signed in 2010 – has a seven year lifespan, and parties can end the agreement by notifying each other at least one year before the expiration date – in this case December 2017. Without notification the VPA is tacitly prolonged.
Undeniably, there is reason for some frustration. The development of this key tool for assuring legality verification has stalled for technical and political reasons. But Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are sending a strong message to the EU and to the Cameroon Government that they should keep the VPA space open. This process has achieved unprecedented forest governance improvements including the online publication of information previously considered too sensitive such as who pays taxes or fulfils social obligations; and strengthened the NGO community which is essential to hold the government and companies to account.
Concretely, the VPA has proved a critical lever for improving community benefits. When the communities’ ten per cent share of the Annual Forest Royalty (AFR) was eliminated in the 2015 Finance Law, the VPA provided a mechanism for CSOs to push for its restoration. Two years of campaigning backed by wide media coverage produced encouraging results: the 2017 Finance Law reallocates 6.75 per cent of the communities’ AFR share and creates an opening to advocate for its complete restoration.
Cameroonian CSOs urge parties not to discard the efforts of the past decade by abandoning a promising initiative just as its advantages could be realised. They invite parties to step up high-level political dialogue between the EU and Cameroon and discuss how to overcome technical barriers linked to the legality assurance system, and address sensitive issues like conversion timber and illegal timber exports to non-EU countries (such as China).