Supplier countries which join the VPA process (and there are now a total of 15) undertake to introduce comprehensive forestry and timber industry governance reform. This includes establishing strictly enforced legality assurance, chain of custody and timber licensing systems.

The ultimate reward is that they can issue FLEGT licences against timber exports. This material can then be imported into the EU without further due diligence risk assessment under the EU Timber Regulation.

However, while Ghana and Indonesia both say they are close, and other countries are at the final implementaton stage of the process, none have licensing in place yet.

The concern in signatory countries is that European customers may lose faith in the project, because licensing is taking so long.

But another aspect of a FLEGT VPA is that these countries and their timber sectors have to commit to broad stakeholder engagement in the industry. And groups on the ground are saying this is already being achieved, with very positive results.

In Indonesia, local and small business groups are reported to be helping shape forestry and timber sector policy for the first time. Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) forest campaigner Mardi Minangsari said the increase in stakeholder participation achieved under its VPA was also being held up as a model for other sectors.

“It’s been an arduous journey, but everyone from civil society and indigenous people, to industry and government has had their say,” she said.

In Ghana, a stakeholder contact group have been active participants in a VPA steering group, while in Liberia, Community Forestry Development Committees (CFDCs) representing the real grass roots have been hands on in the process from the outset.

“This level of consultation never happened in these countries before,” said Saskia Ozinga, campaign co-ordinator at NGO FERN. “In fact, it hasn’t happened anywhere, including Europe.”