In response to these issues, the European Union launched the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan in 2003 to combat illegal logging through trade mechanisms. One of the tools in the FLEGT action plan is Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs). These agreements seek to control the trade in illegal timber between the EU and timber producing countries by supporting legal and policy reform, developing procedures to license the export of legally harvested timber and implementing timber tracking systems and other measures to verify timber legality. While the EU Action Plan is explicit about its emphasis on legality, the VPA process is committed to ensuring that applicable forest law in all partner countries is supportive of sustainable forest management principles.
The VPA agreements are being negotiated bilaterally under a set of guidelines established by the EU. In addition to partner country-specific measures, VPAs are comprised of 5 standard components, including:
- A definition of legal timber that will include rules about the source, allocation, harvesting, transportation, processing, trade and payment of timber;
- A system of verification of legality that will enable certificates to be issued to timber that has met the definition of legality;
- A wood tracking system to trace timber from the forest through to export;
- Independent monitoring to provide periodic checks on the operation of the entire wood tracking and verification systems; and
- An economic and social impacts assessment of the VPA and proposed mitigation measures for such impacts.
The onset or anticipation of VPA processes in a number of countries has provided IUCN with a clear entry point to support and facilitate both tripartite (government, private sector and civil society) participation in policy dialogues and responsive linkages between national policy developments and forest practices. The incentives and institutional support for participatory forest governance reform that the VPA process has created amount to an important opportunity for the potential impacts of IUCN’s forest governance work to be fully realized and extended beyond the limited lifespan of individual projects.