The legality of wooden furniture from Vietnam has come under scrutiny, particularly regarding its impact on deforestation and forest communities’ rights. The Government of Vietnam and the EU have been in trade negotiations intended to resolve these illegalities and the resulting EU-Vietnam Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is expected to be adopted by the end of 2016. Yet the difficulties encountered by civil society during negotiations indicate that this VPA may be of lesser quality.
To be successful, VPAs must be negotiated in a fully participatory and transparent process with social and environmental NGOs, community representatives, the timber industry and the government. This unique quality sets them apart from traditional trade agreements. In Vietnam’s case, these governance principles have not yet been fully applied: no formal civil society delegation is included in the negotiation process.
Fern and its partner, the Vietnamese NGO-FLEGT network (representing more than 60 organisations) are therefore unable to adopt an informed position on this VPA. No English texts have been published since 2012 and Vietnamese stakeholders obtained Vietnamese texts only on the day of the consultation itself.
Fern is concerned than this VPA will be of a lower standard, both in terms of its effectiveness in addressing illegal logging and as a process to improve forest governance. The Vietnamese NGO-FLEGT network would like stronger guarantees on mechanisms for civil society organisations to participate in monitoring the VPA implementation, and measures to address difficulties faced by forest-dependent households once the VPA has been implemented.