Following its “omnibus” legal package to encourage investment through deregulation of labour and environmental laws (FW 253), the Government of Indonesia is citing the COVID-19 pandemic to justify by-passing Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) protections for its forests and forest-dependent people.
The government has published a regulation allowing export of forestry products without the legal documents required under the SVLK (the Indonesian Timber Legality Assurance System under the VPA); the rationale is to facilitate timber exports in order to help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s economy.
“The impact of eliminating V-Legal documents as export requirements in the Minister of Trade Regulation 15/2020 will cause Indonesia to violate the VPA,” say Indonesian civil society organisations in an open letter to president of Indonesia, Mr. Joko Widodo.
“Deregulating the protection of Indonesia’s forests for short economic gain will have a very negative impact on its reputation as well as on forests and the livelihoods of people who rely on them,” says Faith Doherty, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Forests Campaign Leader.
After years of work to gain unparalleled access to EU markets through FLEGT, Indonesia is in danger of making EU imports of its products illegal. NGOs warn that in Indonesia as elsewhere the coronavirus crisis must not be used to weaken environmental and social protections. The pandemic’s legacy will already be devastating; it should not also sound the death knell for Indonesia’s remaining forests.
Pressure from the palm oil trade on these remaining forests continues. The world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia has lost 27.5 million hectares (ha) of forest over the last 35 years; 7.5 million ha of this was for agriculture, and of this 2.9 million ha was due to palm oil expansion.
As one of the world’s biggest importers of palm oil, the EU is a significant part of the problem and could be an important part of any solution. In its new discussion paper, Detoxifying palm oil: How European Union policy could remove deforestation and human rights violations from the palm oil trade with Indonesia, Fern puts options on the table regarding how the EU and Indonesia could deliver trade and development policies which ensure that palm oil production respects Indigenous Peoples’ and community rights and does not harm forests.
As possible links between the destruction of natural habitat and our increased vulnerability to pandemics emerge, the EU should use all the tools it has – trade, development, due diligence, FLEGT – to help halt deforestation and protect human health.