From 6 to 16 February 2017 Fern and five of its partners from Cameroon, Ghana and Liberia toured Europe to discuss the future of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan with EU officials, Member States and the private sector. They explored ways to address challenges such as the agricultural commodities that drive deforestation including palm oil, rubber and cocoa, as well as the possible implications of Brexit on the FLEGT programme.
The group travelled to Brussels, The Hague, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Bonn and Paris, where the African NGOs Foder, Civic Response and SDI gave practical illustrations of progress made under the FLEGT system, and of structural changes provoked by participation in the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process. The EU Commission and Member State representatives recognised the progress made thanks to the VPAs and renewed their support for the FLEGT Action Plan.
A stakeholders’ consultation to be held in May will discuss both the fight against illegal logging and the need to address the drivers of deforestation, and will help shape the FLEGT workplan, expected in the second half of 2017. In order to integrate measures addressing the drivers of deforestation, the FLEGT workplan will depend also on the outcome of a feasibility study ordered by the Commission. The feasibility study on the development of a new EU Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights has been delayed.
It is encouraging that the EU is committed to tackle illegal logging and deforestation in a coherent, connected manner. However, exchanges with competent authorities in Member States revealed significant differences in implementation of the EU Timber Regulation – a pillar of the FLEGT system – in terms of invested resources, expertise and know how.
As long as no level playing field exists in the area of EUTR implementation, combatting illegal timber’s entry in the EU will remain challenging, despite efforts made in timber-producing countries to implement the VPAs. While details of the FLEGT workplan and a possible new initiative on deforestation are as yet unclear, it is crucial that the EU implements and develops coherent policies in order to address illegal logging and the drivers of deforestation.