EU Launches New Programme for Forest Governance in Asia

The EU aims to expand the FLEGT Programme to the rest of the Asian region. This development is following three years’ experience in Malaysia and Indonesia on negotiating the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) to ensure that timber exported to the EU comes only from legal sources.

In 2003, the European Union (EU) adopted the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan to respond to public concerns about illegal logging and deforestation and the resultant environmental damage. Under the EU FLEGT Action Plan, the EU embarked on bilateral negotiations on Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with timber producing countries to ensure legality of forest operations and to encourage sustainable forest management.

Negotiations on VPAs with Malaysia and Indonesia have been underway since 2007. In 2007, these two countries combined accounted for a total of ca RM 6 billion worth of timber trade with the EU. Together, they accounted for about 7% of the timber trade of the EU.

The European Forest Institute (EFI) implements the programme for the EU. Kuala Lumpur was chosen to site the regional office to spearhead this expansion of FLEGT outreach to the other countries in Southeast Asia. The EFI office in Kuala Lumpur is hosted by the Embassy of Finland.

The EU has granted ca RM 30 million for this programme, for activities related to promotion of good forest governance and the facilitation of trade in guaranteed legal timber in the region, in the next three years. Such activities will include communications and awareness-raising through briefings, support for VPA negotiations, technical work, conduct of analyses, co-organising of FLEGT relevant events and consultations, and customs cooperation.

The FLEGT Asia programme will primarily be carried out in the Mekong region, in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. Even though the direct trade between these countries and the EU (with the exception of Vietnam) is not substantial, they have trade links with major Asian timber markets like China, which in turn has a high volume of timber trade with Europe. In 2007, trade of the EU with China amounted to ca RM 9.90 billion or 12% of the timber trade with the EU. Because of this, FLEGT Asia is also anticipated to support bilateral activities under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2008 between the EU and China on forest law enforcement and governance.

The programme will focus on communications on emerging trends for tropical timber, like the new EU legislation to guarantee trade in legal timber on the European market. This legislation will become operational in late 2011. In line with this, the programme will, through the promotion of good forest governance and the facilitation of trade in legal timber, prepare the region for the advent of this legislation so that timber export to the EU is not unduly impeded. Legally-verified timber under FLEGT VPAs will be exempted under the new EU legislation.

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