Laos is stepping up its efforts to negotiate a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT-VPA). The Prime Minister recently established a National Steering Committee, giving Lao civil society organisations a historic opportunity to influence policies that affect forest governance.
This decision is more than welcome given that timber-smuggling from southern Laos to Vietnam was particularly high in late June and July 2015. Illegal timber must be confiscated by local authorities, and can then be sold to local furniture factories.
However, the Ministry of Finance has identified numerous loopholes in the accounting of timber acquired from state stockpiles of confiscated illegal timber and sold by local authorities. It has expressed concern about the impact on the budget through lost revenue.
VPA negotiations therefore seem poised to enter a new phase in Laos. Yet even with CSO involvement in the new Steering Committee, will VPA negotiations be able to challenge corruption among authorities in the timber sector, in addition to addressing the increasingly urgent issues of conversion timber and improving benefit-sharing mechanisms?