As their negotiations toward a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) advance, Vietnam and the EU have taken a positive step toward ensuring the VPA’s effectiveness.
During their sixth negotiating session, from 7 to 13 April in Hanoi, both parties agreedthat the Timber Legality Assurance System of Vietnam (VNTLAS) will be applied not only to wood and wood products exported to the EU, but also to timber products exported to other countries, as well as the domestic market.
This broader scope will ensure greater integrity of the VNTLAS, strengthen the verification of timber products imported into the Vietnamese market and encourage other VPA countries (such as Laos, which exports massive quantity of illegal timber to Vietnam) to move forward with its own VPA negotiation process.
However, whether timber in transit for export will be subject to the same legality verification system remains unclear. Vietnam is currently the most popular route for illegal timber from Laos and Myanmar to be exported to China, so it is crucial to have strong verifiers for this timber as well.
Vietnamese civil society organisations (CSO) are also concerned that state-owned companies might be exempt from verification procedures. They have requested more clarity from the Vietnamese government on the role they could play in independent monitoring. Moreover, Vietnamese CSO consultation is ‘à la carte’: access to information and transparency still present difficulties that need to be resolved before the conclusion of the VPA.