Communication in VPA processes
Communication is important in each stage of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process. Communication tools help governments to structure outreach activities and share results. Communication reinforces, but cannot replace, a transparent participatory process. The purpose of communication in VPA processes is:
- To raise awareness of and engagement with the VPA process
- To facilitate consensus building in negotiations
- To meet transparency commitments described in the VPA
- To facilitate implementation of the VPA
- To raise the profile of the VPA and FLEGT licensed timber (as described in an article in each VPA signed to date)
In the pre-negotiation phase, governments and other stakeholders undertake activities that foster interest in and engagement with a national conversation about the merits of entering VPA negotiations. Activities may include public meetings, parliamentary hearings, study tours, media outreach, targeted stakeholder meetings and participatory mechanisms through which stakeholders can engage with the VPA process.
Once VPA negotiations commence, communication activities shift. Stakeholders need effective means of communicating within and among their groups. In particular, it is important that stakeholder representatives with seats in negotiating structures are able to share information with their constituents. Stakeholder representatives also need to feed information from their constituents back into national and bilateral negotiations. In addition, experience shows that when consultation is an interactive dialogue among different stakeholders, consensus can be reached more quickly and smoothly.
In the negotiating phase, in addition to an ongoing national dialogue, governments have used various tools to share information about the negotiations with the public. These include:
- Publishing policy briefs that explain what the government is negotiating for
- Creating websites
- Publishing ‘aides-mémoires' or other summaries of negotiating sessions
- Holding stakeholder briefings and press conferences to inform the media
- Organising radio and TV programmes to increase awareness and discuss issues
The implementation phase includes communication activities that are outlined in the text or annexes of a VPA, such as:
- Publishing records of joint implementation committee discussions and the committee's annual reports
- Public reports from the independent auditor
- Mechanisms to keep stakeholders informed of VPA implementation progress
- Producing targeted guidance to help stakeholders comply with a timber legality assurance system
- Creating websites to provide public access to additional information described in a VPA annex on public information
- Trade shows, media work and other marketing activities to promote the trade in FLEGT-licensed timber in the EU
- Television and radio broadcasts to raise awareness
- Communicating internationally about a country's efforts to improve forest governance
Some countries have also developed communication strategies or plans.
The Republic of the Congo included such a plan in a VPA annex on accompanying measures. The plan identifies target audiences, methods of communication and messages. Communication seeks to raise public awareness of the VPA and its benefits and strengthen stakeholder collaboration in implementing the agreement.
Under the EU-Indonesia VPA, the parties have agreed a joint communication strategy for the joint implementation committee, which is particularly important as Indonesia approaches FLEGT licensing.