Vietnam's natural forests have long been subject to illegal logging and clearing for farming and economic development. Recognizing the high environmental values of these forests and the goods and services they provide, and wishing to restore and conserve these resources, the Vietnamese government has adopted policies to reduce forest exploitation. These strictly limit the natural forest resources available for production and include measures to curb illegal logging.
Despite these efforts, Vietnam's forests still face pressure from exploitation. The restricted domestic supply, coupled with the rapid growth of Vietnam's wood processing industry, has also increased demand for imported timber, putting pressure on forests in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Vietnam's furniture export industry depends on imports for 80% of its solid wood demand, and notwithstanding national plantation programmes still expects to import 20% by 2020. So adhering to good forest governance practices in Vietnam's domestic and export forest products sectors will help to ensure sustainable and equitable use of forest resources in Vietnam and its supplying countries.
Vietnam made a strong commitment to strengthening forest governance in 2001 at the East Asia FLEG Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia. By signing the Bali Ministerial Declaration, Vietnam pledged to address illegality in the forest sector and support a regional task force to tackle FLEG issues. Building on the success of the Ministerial Conference, several initiatives have been launched to support improved forest governance arrangements in Vietnam, including the IUCN initiatives Strengthening Voices for Better Choices and the Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy.
Another element of Vietnam's response has been to explore working with the European Union under its FLEGT Action Plan. Preliminary discussions between the Vietnamese government and the European Commission in 2008 led to the creation of a bilateral technical working group to examine ways of collaborating. The options for cooperation and their likely impacts are currently being assessed.
All of these efforts are helping to build the foundation for a possible FLEGT agenda in Vietnam. What form this agenda will take, however, and how the responsibility for its implementation will be shared, are still undetermined. This is partly because of some stakeholders' limited understanding of the FLEGT Action Plan, its elements, and its implications for Vietnam's forests and industry. It is also partly because of the technical challenges of tracking and verifying wood flows. Vietnam's wood processing industry imports timber from a variety of countries and through a variety of supply chains. A number of companies have put in place certified chain-of-custody controls, but extending this approach across the industry and also establishing source controls will be tricky. This may hinder any FLEGT measures, especially as Vietnam will need the active support of producer countries who do not necessarily have FLEGT programmes.