Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from VPA countries and their international partners in UK and Europe have called on the European Union to use the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Fitness Check to strengthen the FLEGT Action Plan and the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) in order to address the persistent obstacles that hamper their effective implementation.
This was in a summarised statement released in April 2021 by over forty CSOs from Asia & the Pacific, the Americas, Europe, and West & Central Africa. The CSOs, including Civic Response, are asking the EU to provide tailored support to VPA countries and ensure that CSOs, local communities and Indigenous groups have the space and capacity to participate, and maintain the integrity of the VPAs.
The European Union (EU)- a major importer of timber and timber products- launched environmental initiatives such as FLEGT Action Plan (2003) and Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) which aim to halt illegal logging and the associated trade. So far, the EU has entered into VPA partnership with 15 countries across the world out of which only one has an operating license system.
In 2020, the EU Commission working through the Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENVI) unilaterally decided to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of the FLEGT initiative and held an EUTR and FLEGT-VPA fitness check public consultation.
The interim findings of the fitness check or evaluation arrived at the conclusion that there is no evidence that VPAs have contributed to reducing illegal logging in the partner countries and the consumption of illegally harvested wood in the EU.
Based on these interim findings, top EU officials have made public pronouncements of considering other alternative support mechanisms in the future to enable partner countries to comply with EU requirements with the intention of revoking the FLEGT-VPAs.
In a press release earlier in April however, Ghanaian CSOs in particular are concerned about the methodology applied in the fitness check. The sample group which had majority of respondents from the European Union, seems not to have taken on board opinions from VPA countries in arriving at the findings and conclusions. The CSOs are also unhappy that top EU officials are speaking publicly on the findings and making decisions based on the findings without the EU communicating and discussing the conclusive decisions to VPA countries.
Civil society in Ghana are convinced that cancelling the FLEGT licence would be a major disappointment to the timber industry who have invested in systems to trade in FLEGT licenced timber, as well as to Ghanaian NGOs and the government who have worked long and hard to ensure they met the requirements of the licence. This would come across as a shifting of the goal posts.
Ghana signed and ratified the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU in 2009 to enhance trade in legal timber. This agreement aims at enhancing forest sector governance and ensuring that timber and timber products traded on the domestic market and exported to the EU, are produced in compliance with existing Ghanaian laws, rules and regulations.