The EU and Vietnam have formally concluded negotiations towards a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), by initialling the document.
Initialling indicates that both parties confirm that the text is what they agreed. It sets the stage for the parties to later sign and ratify the agreement, after which the VPA will become legally binding.
The VPA aims to improve forest governance, address illegal logging and promote trade in legal timber products. Under the VPA, Vietnam will develop and implement a timber legality assurance system (TLAS) and other commitments.
The agreement also provides for the establishment of complaints mechanisms and independent evaluations, as well as commitments to involve stakeholders in its implementation and on disclosure of information.
The VPA is designed to tackle illegal logging not only in Vietnam. It will also commit Vietnam to develop procedures and legislation requiring importers to conduct due diligence to prevent illegally-harvested timber from entering Vietnamese supply chains.
The process of VPA implementation – to develop the TLAS elements and build capacity to operate the system – is likely to take some years. Until then, timber products exported from Vietnam to the EU face the normal due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits operators from placing illegally-harvested timber from any country on the EU market.
Only when the EU and Vietnam are satisfied that the timber legality assurance system meets the commitments outlined in the VPA, will Vietnam be able to issue FLEGT licences to products it exports to the EU. FLEGT licences are deemed to meet the requirements of the EUTR, meaning that operators who place FLEGT-licensed products on the market do not need to do further due diligence.