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VPAs and good governance

In most timber-exporting countries, weak forest governance is a key factor in the scale and extent of illegal logging. Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) have the potential to improve forest governance by promoting legislative clarity, transparency and participation in decision making, and by improving institutional coordination and accountability.

There is, however, no standard text on governance in VPAs. Rather, it depends on stakeholders to frame debates and decisions according to their priorities, and to embed text that reflects their needs in the VPA. Each stakeholder group has different governance priorities.

For governments, the most important issues may be law enforcement or economic sustainability of the forest sector. For legally-operating private-sector stakeholders, the priority may be to eliminate unfair competition from illegal logging, while keeping costs down. For civil society organisations, community rights or government accountability may be the main issue.

The multistakeholder participation integrated in all VPA processes enables each group to have its say and to work with other groups to find shared solutions to governance challenges. The participatory process is fundamentally different from the way most governments make policy and can prompt big changes, which take time to develop and implement.

The feature that makes a VPA special is that governance reforms are not imposed from outside a country, but are identified and developed within a country. The EU and timber-exporting country then embed the reforms in a legally binding VPA.