Vietnam-EU legal timber agreement signed
On the 19 October 2018 the European Union has signed an agreement to support the Vietnamese government’s forest governance improvement goals, aimed at ensuring that the timber it imports from the Southeast Asian country is legally sourced.
The implementation of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) will involve many stages. Currently timber and timber products imported from Vietnam are subject to the due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits placement of illegally harvested timber on the EU market.
Vietnam will remain under the EUTR regime even after the ratification of the FLEGT-VPA until such time that Vietnam can develop and implement the Vietnam Timber Legality Assurance System (VNTLAS) as stated in the VPA. Vietnam now has to draft legislation to establish the VNTLAS, after which it and the EU will set up a committee to monitor implementation of the VPA.
Currently Vietnam’s balance of imported and exported timber presents a significant challenge when mitigating risks of illegal timber in their supply chain. Each year Vietnam imports circa 5 million cubic meters of timber from more than 100 countries, with over 150 different species of timber included. These imports are needed as Vietnam has banned domestic forest logging, and plantation-grown timber cannot meet current demand.
Many of the countries of origin and species are high-risk and the challenge for the Vietnamese government will be to implement a governance system that can control the legality of timber imported into the country. It is the core requirement of the VPA that mechanisms are established and in place to ensure that timber imports are legal.
Investing in financial and human resources will be needed to address gaps in knowledge with Customs officials who have insufficient knowledge of timber species. Other issues include Vietnam’s well-documented history of importing illegal timber.
Whilst the FLEGT-VPA is seen as part of the solution challenges exist within Vietnam to raise awareness of the importance of clean timber. There is a quickly expanding middle class, a risk highlighted in FIRA’s sustainability hotspot report, which increases the pressure on raw materials, including timber. Ensuring that those purchasing timber products place a value on these products having been sourced from legal timber will be crucial to the success of the FLEGT-VPA in Vietnam.
Forest Trends surveys within their report have found that many companies providing timber to the domestic and export market are ambivalent to whether timber is legally sourced or not. Many wood processors and manufacturers are also operating at small scale meaning they are unlikely to be able to implement systems to mitigate illegal timber risks.
When you combine all these factors it means that the Vietnamese authorities face an uphill challenge to meet the requirements of FLEGT-VPA licence.