Assurance of the legality of Lao timber is a step closer after negotiations with the European Union (EU) regarding forestry law enforcement, governance and trade commenced. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry announced the progress on the issue yesterday in Vientiane.
The Forestry Department Director General, Mr Thongphat Vongmany spoke at a press conference during the 4th Sub-Regional Training Workshop on Timber Legality Assurance in Vientiane, which runs from October 22-24. He said the Lao side still has several issues requiring discussion with the EU FLEGT and Asean nations attending the training workshop. “Are we ready to enter the EU FLEGT? The answer is not yet, due to the fact we still need more discussion on this,” he said.
The three-day training workshop on timber legality assurance has been co-organised by the ministry, the Asean Secretariat and the EU FLEGT Facility hosted by the European Forest Institute (EFI). The workshop aims to enhance capacity, facilitate an exchange of experiences and foster increased collaboration among agencies and stakeholder groups in Southeast Asian nations that are working on timber legality assurance. About 70 participants gathered, including high-ranking delegates from eight Asean member states, and those of the EU and India.
Mr Thongphat explained that Laos still had to gain more insights from the European side on their experiences regarding ensuring the legality of timber in markets. Then Laos would consider the possibility if such measures could be instituted in a way that conforms to Lao forestry law. According to the Asean secretariat, timber markets worldwide are increasingly responding to the problem of illegal timber and associated trade due to growing consumer demand for legal and sustainable timber products. Consumer markets such as the EU, the US and Australia have developed regulations to make it an offence to place illegal timber on their markets.
A large proportion of timber and timber products from Asean countries is exported to these consumer markets. Senior Officer on Forestry of the Agriculture Industries and Natural Resources Division of the Asean Secretariat Mr Dain Sukmajaya said timber-producing and processing countries in Asean are all connected through their timber supply chains. “Timber products destined for markets with legality requirements often use timber harvested from one Asean country and get processed in another. This makes cooperation between the Asean member states on this issue ever more important.
“At the same time these timber legality frameworks will also facilitate meeting the growing demand for wood products within the Asean regi on. “This initiative is relevant to the effort in enhancing competitiveness of Asean forest products and to gain global market access for the benefit of people in the region,” Mr Sukmajaya said.
Five Asean member states are engaged in Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) processes with the EU, with one implementing and four about to start negotiations. They are Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. VPAs are trade agreements between the EU and timber producing countries which aim to stop illegal logging and its associated trade. The partnerships ensure that only legal timber products enter the EU market, good forest governance and law enforcement is promoted in the producing countries while taking into account social and broader environmental considerations.
Head of Development Co-operation of the EU Delegation to Laos, Mr Stefan Schleuning said that the FLEGT VPA process contributes to better forest governance by supporting the development of a licensing system for timber products, creating and supporting multi-stakeholder consultations and moving countries toward sustainable forest management. All of these contribute to securing the long-term use of the forest resources in Laos.
Mr Thongphat added that Laos is working to strengthen forest governance in the country with FLEGT VPA being one of the avenues that can contribute to this. Good governance of the forest sector will allow Laos to further develop opportunities for wood processing in the country, add value to its products, create sustainable employment opportunities in the forest sector and open a wider range of export markets.
Once the FLEGT VPA is fully operational, certified timber products from the Lao PDR will be in full compliance with the EU Timber Regulations which prohibit placement of illegal timber on the EU market. It may also help Laos to gain easier access to other markets such as the USA and Australia.