Difficulties in VPA/FLEGT negotiations

08:20 | 13/05/2015 Cooperation

(VEN) - Vietnam and the EU have had four high-ranking negotiations, eight technical negotiations, and 29 online meetings on the VPA/FLEGT (Voluntary Partnership Agreement and Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) since November 2010. The Government of Vietnam is trying to conclude negotiations soon so its wood products (stated in Appendix 1 of the VPA) can qualify for FLEGT licensing. Under the FLEGT license, wood exporters will not have make declarations in accordance with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR).

Difficulties in VPA/FLEGT negotiations

Arduous path of negotiation
The Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is part of the efforts to implement the program of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT). It is a bilateral trade agreement between the EU and a partner country to ensure that the partner country commits to exporting timber and timber products of legal origin to the EU.
Regarding the VPA between Vietnam and the EU, the two parties are negotiating six main contents including the list of goods to be subject to the VPA; the definition of legal timber; supply chain control; the Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS); FLEGT licensing processes; and independent monitoring.
According to the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, after the 4th high-ranking meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam and the EU agreed upon the basic content of nine technical appendixes. Accordingly, 23 6-digit goods categories and 113 8-digit items have been included in the list of exports (Appendix 1). The two sides agreed upon applying the Timber Legality Definition (LD) to two groups: organizations and households with seven principles of timber legality (Appendix 2). Since the 2013 Land Law took effect, there have been many new law documents issued, so the LD construction team of Vietnam is reviewing all criteria, indicators, and evidence of the seven principles of LD in accordance with the provisions of new law documents of Vietnam effective until March 31, 2015.
The two sides agreed that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Vietnam or (CITES Vietnam) will be the FLEGT licensing agency. Vietnam is negotiating with the EU so that the FLEGT license will be issued in both English and Vietnamese.
According to the Head of Vietnam’s Standing Office for the FLEGT and Lacey Act, under the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, Nguyen Tuong Van, the Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS) remains the crux of the negotiation process and this problem has prolonged the negotiation process. Vietnam is one of the nine countries negotiating a VPA with the EU. For instance, Malaysia has been negotiating a VPA with the EU since 2007, while the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon have been doing the same since 2010. VPA negotiations between these countries and the EU haven’t finished yet because agreements on TLAS haven’t been reached. The EU wants the TLAS to be applied to the EU and other markets as well as the domestic market. As such, Vietnam has proposed that TLAS should be designed first for the EU market, then for other markets, and finally the domestic market.
According to Van, Vietnam needs time to improve the capacity of state management agencies and enterprises so they can adapt to TLAS and FLEGT licensing, and that the country also needs time to prepare laws in compliance with international laws.
The government’s objective is to complete negotiations later this year.

VPA/FLEGT to remove technical barriers of EUTR
EU Timber Regulation No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 lays down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market. The regulation took effect in March 2013 and is applied in 28 EU countries.

Businesses exporting timber products to the EU have been experiencing some difficulties in proving the origin of exports. According to the regulation, the operator must have access to information describing the timber and timber products, country of harvest, species, quantity, details of the supplier and information on compliance with national legislation. Meanwhile, a number of exporters said that product origin profiles were usually handwritten documents issued by forest rangers, which were not usually accepted by customers. In a number of cases, product origin documents were missing, causing businesses to face difficulties in proving product origin.

Having the FLEGT license means that the shipment has been verified as eligible for trade according to Vietnamese law. According to the EU’s principle, VPA negotiations are based on the laws of the host country. So in the case of Vietnam, the VPA terms relate to the origin of wood, tax, the environment, rather than new regulations issued by the EU. After the VPA is signed, businesses proving legal origin of timber and timber products and complying with current Vietnamese laws on employment and the environment will be given a FLEGT license. 

                                                                                                                                                                             By Thu Huong

Theo ven.vn