When I joined the UK TTF in September 2002 little did I know that nine years later I’d be sitting in the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry having just witnessed the EU and Indonesia agree on trade measures that will eliminate the export of illegal timber from Indonesia by March 2013, a business worth an estimated US$9m per year.

Those early years in the UK TTF were a good grounding for my time here in Jakarta. Within months of joining I was already stomping through a forest concession in East Kalimantan posing as a UK buyer and seeing illegal logging first hand, whilst in Jakarta delegates had just met to follow up the so-called Bali Declaration on Illegal Logging, another historic agreement signed in 2001.

The UK (government, environmental activists and trade) can be justly proud of its role in Indonesia because we supported real action on the ground. The UK TTF then had strong trade links with Indonesia and was a key player, having published the groundbreaking Code of Conduct committing its members to stop trading in illegal timber. But it was not going to be an easy ride…

On June 4, 2003 we organised a workshop for UK importers of Indonesian timber at the Mark Mason’s Hall, Central London. Unbeknown to us, that same day Greenpeace UK launched its Partners in Crime campaign exposing the trade in illegal timber and, on that surreal day, whilst an Indonesian forestry official was listing UK importers buying illegal timber, Greenpeace activists were hanging off cranes at a government building site in Victoria declaring it a “forest crime scene”, naming and shaming many of the same companies in that workshop.

That was a watershed moment for international efforts to stop illegal logging, and for me personally. The evidence was irrefutable and TTF members had to take it seriously, which I’m glad to say most did including, in some cases, suspending purchases from Indonesia.

The rest, as they say, is history; the TTF got stuck in and employed The Forest Trust to audit Indonesian mills and they confirmed the extent of the problem. With UK and US funding, Indonesian stakeholders then started to develop a legality definition that would rationalise the 900 forest laws and become a basis for auditing. The EU then funded the Timber Trade Action Plan that showed it was possible for mills and forests to “get legal” in Indonesia.

The last three years have focused on turning these business and NGO-led initiatives into trade laws to level the playing field. First the US Lacey Act Timber Amendment (2008), and then the EU Timber Regulation (2010) made it illegal to import illegal timber into those respective markets.

These two laws tipped the balance and persuaded Indonesia that its Bali partners were doing their bit. The Indonesian response has been terrific; the Indonesia-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), to be formally announced next week in Jakarta, incorporates best practice in auditing and monitoring, is the first in Asia, and the biggest such deal in the world so far. It is a genuinely credible system that Indonesia is justly proud of and, incidentally, is offering to other markets such as China and Japan. And the core auditing scheme known as Indo-TLAS is already rolling, with 70 companies already licensed as legal and 600 to be audited by the end of the year.

And for those UK traders that stopped buying Indonesian in 2003, the VPA means that soon you will be able to buy Indonesian timber without worrying if it is legal or not.