Following the adoption of the FLEGT Regulation permitting voluntary licensing schemes, in December 2005, the EU has the mandate to negotiate voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs) with key producer countries on the issues of deforestation and illegal logging around the world. The overall aim of the VPAs is to improve forest governance, including increasing transparency and strengthening civil society participation. Progress, although slow initially, has gathered momentum over the last few years. Currently six VPAs have been finalised and four more are being negotiated. However none have yet been implemented. Fern, in its EU Forest Watch update (November 2011) reports that multi-stakeholder engagement in partner countries has been a key strength of the process, but that effective implementation is now the main challenge.
In 2007, EU governments overwhelmingly supported the key principles necessary to ensure the long-term effectiveness of the VPA negotiations. In 2012, it’s a shame that this hasn’t translated into effective implementation. It’s still vitally important, therefore, that member states proactively support not just the ongoing negotiation phase, but also the implementation process in the countries that have signed partnership agreements. It’s ironic that at the same time that the widely supported VPA negotiations have been making critical changes to forest governance in partner countries, with the support of effective in-country multi-stakeholder processes, countries such as the Netherlands are pulling resources from the VPAs to focus on less effective parallel processes for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, which have ignored the civil society platforms created for the FLEGT VPA agreements and have at times even undermined the VPA agreements. It seems obvious that there should be far greater coherence between the two processes and that they should be complementary.