Half a year after the Commission presented the preliminary findings of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) and European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) Fitness Checks to assess whether the EU’s flagship tool to combat illegal logging is still “fit for purpose” (FW 264), NGOs and stakeholders in partner countries are still in the dark as to what to expect regarding the FLEGT Action Plan’s future.
Very limited official information has emerged about EU plans to further support forest governance in timber-producing countries. This lack of transparency is fuelling rumours that the Commission’s will to maintain FLEGT and its Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) is waning. Significantly, concerns persist that the FLEGT Fitness Check methodology is flawed and biased.
The EU’s unilateral move to scrap FLEGT would negate the efforts of partner governments that have used the VPA platform to make strides in cleaning up their forest sector and fix governance problems, in close collaboration with other stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector. Furthermore, ditching binding bilateral VPAs is not only up to the Commission. In a recent statement, the Forest Minister of the Republic of the Congo, Rosalie Matondo, insisted that “The FLEGT-VPA was an agreement based on equal consultations between two parties, so each party should have a say in decisions which fundamentally alter its basis.”
Furthermore, partnerships with producer countries form a central plank of the EU’s 2019 Communication to “step up EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests”, in which the Commission describes how bilateral partnerships should work hand-in-hand with a new deforestation-free supply chain regulation, due to be released in December. It therefore seems a strange time for the Commission to be questioning the only meaningful forest governance partnerships they have.
Fern urges the Commission to ensure that any changes to key EU instruments to fight illegal logging are discussed with all concerned stakeholders in the spirit of transparency and inclusiveness that has characterised the process thus far.