Flegt licensing key to tackling illegal timber

20 January 2017

European environment commissioner Karmenu Vella congratulates the timber trade on its part in getting FLEGT-licensed timber and wood products to market, putting the EU “at the forefront of a global movement to end illegal logging”

The arrival of the first FLEGT licensed timber in the UK and other EU Member States is a huge milestone for Indonesian and EU timber trades.

Indonesia has demonstrated that it is possible to bring complex supply chains under control and verify legality of timber products. The FLEGT licence is also what connects the FLEGT Action Plan’s demand and supply side measures; the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), barring EU traders from placing illegally harvested timber on the market, and EU FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with suppliers, which, when fully implemented, entitle the latter to FLEGT licence timber exports to the EU, exempting them from further EUTR due diligence.

Ultimate proof of concept will be market reaction to FLEGT-licensed timber availability. But an ITTO survey in Germany, Spain and the UK showed that EU operators want FLEGT-licensed timber as it reduces legality risk.

It took some years for Indonesia to reach the FLEGT licensing stage of its VPA and it remains a work in progress in other countries engaged in the process hoping to follow it lead. But VPAs are not quick fixes. It takes time to overcome longstanding forest governance challenges. To be credible and robust, they’re developed through multi-stakeholder processes and national consensus. They also involve implementation of ambitious verification systems in challenging conditions.

And the reforms can be far reaching. They include better law enforcement and regulation and greater accountability, which, in turn, trigger tough measures against corruption and organised crime. They also demand unprecedented transparency and structures to enable participation of all forest stakeholders. For it’s part the European Commission has focused on ensuring the EUTR is fully implemented by all Member States. Significant progress has been made since 2014, when formal EUTR compliance was still in development in 18 countries. Today all EUTR Competent Authorities perform the checks and take action over EUTR breaches. We now have great potential to build on the achievement of Indonesia and the EU so far. The 14 other countries negotiating or implementing VPAs provide 80% of EU tropical timber imports. Several are making good progress through the process and, if the market responds positively to FLEGT-licensed timber from Indonesia, others could be encouraged to advance further towards full VPA implementation.

While focusing primarily on legality, the EU FLEGT Action Plan also recognises the EU’s wider objective is to encourage sustainable forest management. Legality provides the foundation for this.

So I’d like to congratulate all stakeholders for their part in reaching this stage. In particular I’d like to thank the private sector, including in the UK, which has been integral to the FLEGT VPA initiative and where, I am reassured, the timber trade expresses continuing commitment to it and the EUTR post-Brexit.

An independent evaluation of the FLEGT Action Plan concluded that it is a relevant, innovative response to the challenge of the illegal timber trade and has already had significant impacts. Strong private sector support for FLEGT, the EUTR and FLEGT-licensed products have been vital to this and responsible EU operators and traders are now at the forefront of a growing global movement to end illegal logging.