On 15 November 2016, Indonesia became the first country in the world to issue FLEGT licences, opening up the long-awaited ‘green lane’ access to EU markets promised to countries that successfully implement a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) – a legally binding timber trade agreement with the EU.
The FLEGT licence automatically meets the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation, which prohibits operators in the EU from placing illegally harvested timber and products derived from illegal timber on the EU market. Importers of FLEGT-licensed timber products can place their imports on the EU market without the need to conduct further due diligence. Timber products from Indonesia that reach European shores without a FLEGT licence will be automatically turned away.
Yet Indonesia remains a vast and intensely complicated country, and the story of forest protection in Indonesia mirrors that complexity. In Aceh, a fairly autonomous region of Indonesia currently reeling from the effects of an earthquake, the courts rejected a bid by local communities to protect an area of virgin forest from deforestation associated with mining, despite a national moratorium on logging in virgin forest. That forest, communities say, is the only place in the world where orangutan, rhinos, elephants and tigers share the same environment.
More positively, in Riau, another region in Indonesia, the Supreme Court recently fined a plantation company roughly EUR 1.1 billion for illegal forest clearing in 2004 - 2006, the country’s largest ever fine for environmental destruction. It is not clear yet when, or if at all, the fine will actually be paid.
For more information, see Fern’s extended comment on Indonesia’s FLEGT licences, and the implications for other countries seeking to issue FLEGT licences.