Parliament backed EU efforts to halt the illegal logging and degradation of rain forests when it granted its consent to forest protection agreements with the Central African Republic and Liberia on Thursday. Both countries account for significant shares of Africa's rain forests.
"The agreements are an important step forward in promoting sustainable logging and trading of timber but also in raising people's awareness. I am confident that the proceeds of Liberian timber sales will no longer be misused to finance bloodshed. We must also ensure that the rights and concerns of indigenous peoples are fully taken into account by Central African Republic's authorities," Parliament's rapporteur Elisabeth Köstinger (EPP, AT), said ahead of the vote.
EU to let in only legal timber products
The voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs) commit partner countries to export to the EU only verified legal timber products, by establishing a licensing scheme. In exchange, the EU will promote favourable access to its markets for wood products covered by the agreements.
The agreements cover all exported timber products (not just to the EU), including wood chips for fuel, logs, sawn wood, veneers and wooden furniture. In the case of Liberia, products sold on its domestic market will also be covered.
VPAs provide for independent third party auditing to ensure that only legally verified timber is sold domestically or exported, and civil society representatives will also take part in monitoring their enforcement.
MEPs highlighted enforcement and monitoring challenges, and stressed that support from the EU and its Member States for enforcement capacity building is also needed.
VPAs are a cornerstone of the 2003 EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). They aim to reduce illegal logging, by helping to improve regulation, governance and law enforcement in the partner country's forestry sector as well as strengthening its market opportunities in the EU. The VPA system, including the issuing of FLEGT export licences, is expected to be fully operational by 2014.
So far, six countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia and the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville), have signed VPAs with the EU. VPAs with Ghana and Cameroon have already been ratified by both sides. Four VPAs are currently being negotiated, with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Malaysia and Vietnam.
It is estimated that a forest area the size of a football field is destroyed every two seconds in the world, causing €12 billion damage a year. In a report published in March, the World Bank said illegal logging in some countries accounted for as much as 90% of all logging and generated between $10 and $15 billion a year in criminal proceeds. Large-scale illegal logging operations are almost always linked to high-level corruption and organized crime networks.
In October 2010, the EU adopted a regulation (coming into force in March 2013) prohibiting placing illegally harvested and produced timber products on the EU market, ensuring a level-playing field for timber traded with FLEGT partner countries.