In a discussion about the long-awaited results of the FLEGT Action Plan evaluation (see top story, FW214 and FW209), the EU Commission confirmed its support for FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) processes to be continued in the future.
The comments by representatives of the Commission's Directorates-General for International Cooperation and Development, and for the Environment were made during an open dialogue with about 25 members of the Community Rights Network (CRN) from Central and West Africa and South East Asia, who were in Brussels to discuss effective strategies to improve forest governance.
On 14 April 2016, the CRN delegates met staff from DG Development, DG Environment, the Secretary General and the European External Action Service to explore lessons learned from participating in VPA processes, as well as the need to address challenges such as new drivers of deforestation.
The CSOs called on the EU to maintain its support for the FLEGT Action Plan and to preserve the opportunity the VPAs afford to civil society to influence policymakers regarding forests.
Evidence shows that VPA processes have been instrumental in tackling the underlying causes of illegal logging, such as a lack of transparency. VPAs are also a useful lever through which to tackle climate change, CRN delegates stressed.
Although the Commission acknowledged VPA achievements and confirmed that VPA processes will not be discontinued, it highlighted the need to improve VPA impact monitoring and strategic management of VPA processes.
The CRN delegates also visited Somex, an importer of tropical timber based in the port of Antwerp, to better understand the implementation of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), and how due diligence works in practice.
According to the Belgian importer, illegally-harvested timber frequently arrives in the port of Antwerp and some importers fail to comply with the EUTR due diligence requirement. Belgian authorities lack sufficient resources to carry out necessary controls and the European Commission does not provide adequate support to the authorities to assess timber imported from high risk countries.
The Commission acknowledged the urgent need to step up EUTR implementation in accordance with the recommendations of the recent EUTR evaluation. The VPAs and EUTR are two interlinked, complementary sides of improving forest governance and keeping illegal timber out of Europe. Combatting illegal logging and fighting climate change require greater policy coherence to increase the mutual reinforcement of both instruments.
Image: CRN delegates ahead of their meeting with the European Commission (Indra van Gisbergen for Fern)