Over the past decade, the European Union entered into collaborative agreements with tropical timber-producing countries to fight forest crime and verify the legality of wood imported into the EU.
Within the Greater Mekong, Vietnam was the first (and to date, only) country to sign such a voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) with the EU, back in 2018. The VPA is a legally binding trade agreement where both sides commit to trading only in verified legal timber products.
Under the VPA, timber-supplying countries have to set up a timber legality assurance system capable of verifying the legality of their timber products. Once operational, the system will issue special EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (EU FLEGT) licenses to accompany exports of verified legal timber products into the EU. Such licensed products are considered to comply with the requirements of existing EU timber regulations, which prohibit the sale of illegally harvested timber and timber products on the EU market.
Now that Vietnam has signed the VPA, it will have to draft new regulations to build up an effective assurance system. Outside the Greater Mekong, another Southeast Asian country offers a glimpse of what this future might look like: Indonesia, which signed the VPA in 2013 and began FLEGT licensing in 2016.
Sheryl Lee Tian Tong