FLEGT-licensed legally assured timber and wood products should soon be on the EU market.

That’s a phrase that we’ve heard several times over the years, only for the promise to come to nothing. But now it looks as if it will become reality.

The EU-Forest Law Enforcement, Trade and Government Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) with Indonesia is fully implemented and on August 23, in one of the final steps towards FLEGT-licensed timber delivery, the way was cleared by the European Commission for Indonesian FLEGT licences to be recognised under the EU FLEGT Regulation. The next move, the announcement by the EU-Indonesian FLEGT Joint Implementation Committee of the actual date licensing will begin, should happen on September 15.

From there the expected date of arrival of first Indonesian FLEGT-licensed cargoes will be named, confidently predicted to be before the year end.

Naturally the FLEGT-licensing initiative has come in for trade criticism, notably about the time taken to deliver licensed timber. That’s led to loss of interest and decline in awareness. And in the meantime the EU trade has got on with ensuring its own legality via responsible procurement policies and due diligence systems to ensure compliance with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR).

But, while being among the critics, the ETTF has also always recognised the fundamental value and potential of the FLEGT VPA initiative, with which 15 supplier countries are currently involved. Now it looks as if it is delivering licensed timber, we urge the wider trade to back it, as we’ll be doing at the ETTF.

The initiative has already delivered considerable benefits in signatory supplier countries. It has reformed timber and forestry sector governance and ensured greater industry transparency and fairer distribution of its rewards. The auditing, control systems and wider stakeholder engagement it has introduced have helped combat illegal logging and trade and, by ensuring timber legality, it also potentially lays the groundwork for wider spread of sustainable forest management.

FLEGT licensing should help secure suppliers greater market access too, not just in the EU, but other countries with market legality requirements too.

Of course the main commercial benefit of FLEGT licensed timber and wood products for the EU timber trade is that it is exempt further due diligence under the EUTR. That should save businesses time and money, help reduce corporate risk and simplify logistics.

Provided it is effectively administered, managed and monitored, FLEGT licensing also has potential to be good for the EU trade’s image, further underlining its commitment against illegal timber.

By supporting FLEGT-licensed timber in the marketplace, we could also encourage other suppliers involved in the initiative to step up their progress through the VPA process and persuade more to join.

The other thing the trade should do now is complement its support for FLEGT-licensed timber by pressing for even stricter, more uniform implementation of the EUTR.

Any weak links in the chain will disincentivise EUTR exempt FLEGT-licensed timber supply and demand. They are two parts of the same vital effort, to eradicate illegal wood from the market once and for all. Let’s get behind them both.