Vientiane Times, November 6, 2015.
The government is preparing to negotiate the first round of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) in the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan for illegal logging prevention and to increase the value of wood exports . The negotiations are expected to start at the beginning of next year when Laos is ready for every stage of the first round, the Forestry Inspection Department Director General, Mr. Khamphouth Phandanouvong, told Vientiane Times yesterday.
The committees involved in the process comprise officials from the ministries of Agriculture and Forestry, Industry and Commerce, Natural Resources and Environment, Justice, and Finance, along with provincial authorities. The government has been discussing the process for many years, before the Prime Minister accepted the appointment of the FLEGT-VPA’s National Steering Committee in August this year. The negotiation will have many rounds before the signing of the agreement stage or acceptance of the FLEGT-VPA, Mr Khamphouth said. The aim is to reduce illegal logging through trading management as well as increase the value of wood for export, he added.
In Asean countries, only Indonesia is a party to the FLEGT-VPA, Mr Khamphouth said. Malaysia is in the seventh or eighth round of negotiations, while Vietnam is in the third stage and Thailand is in the preparation stage. VPAs are a key component of the EU’s FLEGT Action Plan to address illegal logging. FLEGT works by strengthening sustainable and legal forest management, improving governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber. The VPA negotiation process takes into account the needs and voices of civil society organisations, forest-dependent communities, and small- to medium-sized enterprises in the forestry sector.
In response to growing global deforestation and forest degradation, the FLEGT Action Plan was launched in 2003 to tackle illegal logging.
The Action Plan sets out measures to prevent the import of illegal timber into the EU, improve the supply of legal timber, and increase demand for timber from responsibly managed forests. Illegal logging has been a major issue in Laos for many years, and has caused the country to lose significant amounts of revenue from timber trading and a decrease in forested areas, with some authorities colluding with bad elements to fell trees illegally. A few months ago the government banned the export of wood in a bid to curb the illegal trade in timber and make more wood available for processing and export.