A timber-exporting country and the EU develop a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) in phases through nested sets of processes. These include bilateral negotiations between the EU and the timber-exporting country, and national negotiations within and among stakeholder groups in the timber-exporting country.
While bilateral negotiations formalise a VPA, the national discussions shape the agreement's content. Unlike in most trade agreements, in negotiating a VPA the EU and a timber-exporting country are not adversaries. Instead, the parties work together to achieve a shared goal – to eliminate illegal logging.
For a VPA to be credible in the marketplace it must provide EU importers with a guarantee that FLEGT licences are only issued to legal timber. The EU expects VPA processes to build and sustain national ownership of a credible VPA through broad stakeholder participation and by addressing problems identified by national stakeholders.
The expectations of a timber-exporting country depend on the national context and the issues that concern stakeholders. There is no blueprint for a VPA process. The flexibility of the VPA model allows stakeholders to develop an agreement that meets their specific needs and an appropriate roadmap for implementing the agreement.
A VPA process is unprecedented in that it addresses an entire value chain. The VPA process enables national government, private sector and civil society representatives to reach consensus on how to promote legal forestry activities that support economic, social and environmental goals.
Experiences to date have shown that some governance challenges take time to address. It also takes time to ensure that the negotiating phase is credible and likely to yield results, and that the implementation phase is comprehensive and responds to new challenges as they emerge.
As VPA implementation is country-led and not driven by external funding, it requires strong national commitment. It can be a challenge to maintain momentum in VPA processes. The EU is therefore exploring ways to encourage a robust yet relatively rapid process for countries that are new to VPAs.
While FLEGT licensing is an important goal of a VPA process, it is not the end point. Governance reforms, impact monitoring, improvements to the timber legality assurance system and other activities continue.