For Fern’s civil society partners in several tropical forest countries, most of the past decade’s improvements in forest governance have been wrested from a reluctant timber sector by the pioneering Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT-VPA) programme. FLEGT’s insistence on transparency and on prising open decision-making processes previously off limits to civil society organisations (CSOs) has catalysed change, making possible whatever measure of accountability now exists. In Ghana and Liberia, this issue’s featured countries, other forest-relevant developments have therefore been overshadowed by the apparent loss of interest by parts of the European Commission in the binding VPA trade agreements – which has sparked fears amongst civil society that their efforts and achievements may be in jeopardy.
Impatience with slow progress toward issuance of FLEGT licences is understandable, but CSOs have been taken aback by the preliminary findings of the FLEGT Fitness Check and its few, primarily European respondents. Considering only whether licences have been issued, while disregarding the strides made in law enforcement and governance within timber-producing countries themselves, is a poor litmus test for the programme’s utility, they feel.
That elements within the Commission are considering such a dramatic change of heart is very damaging — and not only to the credibility of the Commission in tropical forest countries. Without the structure of FLEGT’s legal framework, CSOs fear for the future of their forests, their right to participate in policy-making and their ability to fight for the land rights of local communities. Meaningful change takes time; they urge the Commission to allow FLEGT to keep fighting.