A VPA process is a series of phases, each ending in a decision point. The decision points trigger a shift into a new phase, which may change the nature of relationships and dialogues among stakeholders.
In reality, however, the VPA process is fluid. It varies between countries and as a VPA evolves. There is no checklist or fixed structure to the process. What may seem to be distinct phases may in fact overlap. The process emerges from discussions among stakeholders in the timber-exporting country.
Nonetheless, to clarify understanding of VPA processes it is useful to consider the component phases. The description here outlines what has happened in most VPA processes so far, and is not a prescription for how a VPA process should necessarily proceed in future.
Pre-negotiation phase. In this phase, a timber-exporting country, in consultation with national stakeholders, considers whether to pursue a VPA. National stakeholders may begin to organise and inform themselves in preparation for negotiations. Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on the pre-negotiation phase.
Negotiation phase. Negotiations within and among stakeholder groups in the timber-exporting country, and between the national government and the EU, define the content of a VPA and embed it in a legally binding agreement. Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on the negotiation phase.
The ratification process formalises a VPA and follows the normal process in the EU and partner countries for international treaties. The process to ratify a VPA begins when the parties mark the end of negotiations by initialling the VPA. To date, ratification has taken from several months to more than a year. Ratification does not mean a VPA partner country can issue FLEGT licences. First, a country must ensure that all aspects of the timber legality assurance system agreed in the VPA are functioning. This often entails further development and/or refinement of existing systems in the implementation phase of a VPA process.
Implementation phase. The implementation phase of a VPA process does not formally begin until both parties have ratified the agreement. In reality, however, implementation activities often begin before the ratification process is complete. In this phase, the parties to a VPA develop and implement what they have agreed, including governance reforms and a timber legality assurance system. FLEGT licensing can only begin after the parties have jointly evaluated the VPA timber legality assurance system and are confident that the system functions as described. After FLEGT licensing has begun, legal and governance reforms may continue. The parties monitor the economic, social and environmental impacts of the VPA and review reports from an independent auditor. A VPA does not have an end point. Rather it foresees that implementation will continue indefinitely unless either party decides to end the agreement. Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on the implementation phase.
Related sections of VPA Unpacked
Falconer, J. 2013. Overview of VPA processes: opportunities and challenges for projects to advance FLEGT. Presentation to FLEGT Project coordination meeting. 9 October 2013, Brussels. [Download PowerPoint presentation]