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Implementation phase of a VPA process

In the implementation phase, parties enhance and/or develop the systems, institutions, capacity, legislative frameworks and governance reforms agreed in a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). These include the timber legality assurance system and wider governance reforms.

The purposes of the implementation phase are for:

  • The partner country to implement governance reform commitments
  • The timber legality assurance system to be made operational
  • The partner country to export FLEGT-licensed timber to the EU
  • The consequences of the agreement to be monitored and evaluated
  • Stakeholders to drive ongoing implementation
  • FLEGT-licensed products to achieve high market visibility

Each VPA sets out a timetable for implementing the agreement, including governance reforms and developing the timber legality assurance system ahead of FLEGT licensing. Most VPAs include a timetable in the annex on the implementation schedule.

The order and timing of activities in the implementation phase are specific to each VPA partner country and can overlap with the process of ratification. Some implementation activities may even begin before negotiations end. Others, such as ongoing reforms, continue after FLEGT licensing has started. Stakeholder participation is a key feature of the implementation phase of a VPA process.

The lead administration body, usually the ministry of forestry, coordinates implementation activities in the VPA partner country.

Meanwhile, a joint implementation committee of EU and the VPA partner country representatives oversees implementation, monitors progress, handles grievances and addresses new challenges as they arise.

Some VPA processes have created an interim joint implementation committee to bridge the gap between the end of negotiations and the ratification of the VPA by both parties.


Main activities

The main activities in the implementation phase are:

Setting up structures. These include national and bilateral structures described in a VPA text and annexes, and other structures needed to implement a VPA. Such structures often include national multistakeholder bodies, implementing agencies and a joint implementation committee.

Read more about these structures in the section of VPA Unpacked on VPA structures.

System development. Partner countries will need to improve existing systems and perhaps develop new ones if all elements of a timber legality assurance system, as described in a VPA, are not yet operational. All timber-exporting countries that have signed VPAs to date have had to work on existing systems before moving to FLEGT licensing. As part of a timber legality assurance system, a partner country, in consultation with the EU also appoints an independent auditor, whose terms of reference form an annex to a VPA (See independent auditing). Other activities to operationalise a timber legality assurance system may include:

  • Developing procedures and enhancing systems to ensure legal timber
  • Strengthening traceability along the supply chain
  • Passing enabling legislation
  • Strengthening the human, technical and institutional capacity needed to implement VPA systems

Creating public disclosure mechanisms. A VPA partner country will establish mechanisms for sharing information with the public, as detailed in the VPA annex on public disclosure of information.

Joint independent evaluation of the timber legality assurance system. Before a VPA partner country completes developing its timber legality assurance system and FLEGT licensing can begin, the parties conduct a joint evaluation to ensure that the timber legality assurance system meets the requirements agreed in the VPA.

To achieve this, the joint implementation committee commissions independent experts who evaluate the timber legality assurance system against criteria provided in a dedicated VPA annex. The evaluation is usually not a one-off exercise. In VPAs to date, the evaluation has taken place in stages to identify actions that are required before FLEGT licensing can commence and to refine the final design of the timber legality assurance system.

The evaluators report to the joint implementation committee, which decides whether or not the timber legality assurance system is functioning as intended. If the system is as intended, the joint implementation committee may recommend that FLEGT licensing can commence.

The decision to begin FLEGT licensing has legal consequence for both parties. Each party follows its own processes to formally agree to the recommendation to allow FLEGT licensing to begin, and puts in place the measures required to enforce the FLEGT licensing scheme. This process involves:

  • Establishing communication channels between the EU and partner-country authorities
  • Amending the FLEGT Regulation, which gives the EU authority to verify FLEGT licences on timber entering the EU market
  • Issuing FLEGT licences

To date, only the VPAs of Ghana and Indonesia have reached the stage of joint evaluation of timber legality assurance systems. In the case of Indonesia, the findings and recommendations of the joint evaluation led the EU and Indonesia to develop and regularly update an action plan for VPA implementation that mapped out a path to FLEGT licensing. The action plan was shared publicly (see link below). Once the parties were satisfied that the recommendations of the joint evaluation had been implemented, they confirmed that FLEGT licensing could begin on 15 November 2016.

Exports of FLEGT-licensed timber and EU border controls. When the parties are satisfied that the timber legality assurance system functions as required by the VPA, the partner country can begin to issue FLEGT licences to legal timber and timber products of the types listed in the VPA annex on product scope. Customs authorities in EU member states can then verify FLEGT-licensed products at their borders and allow them to enter the EU market.

See the section of VPA Unpacked Trade in FLEGT-licensed products.

Wider reforms. All VPAs to date have also identified wider reforms for partner countries to implement beyond the governance and legal reforms required to develop a timber legality assurance system.

See the section of VPA Unpacked on Legal reforms resulting from VPA processes.

Impact monitoring. All VPAs oblige the parties to develop impact monitoring frameworks. Joint implementation committees ensure, therefore, that frameworks are in place to monitor the economic, social and environmental impacts of VPAs and to take reasonable steps to mitigate adverse effects. Areas to monitor may include institutional effectiveness, trade flows and market dynamics, illegal logging, forest condition, livelihoods and poverty, and economic development.

See the section of VPA Unpacked on VPA monitoring.

Raising awareness. The parties to a VPA and other stakeholders may engage in activities to raise awareness of a VPA and increase market visibility of FLEGT-licensed timber. This may include activities outlined in a communication strategy.

See the section of VPA Unpacked on Communication in VPA processes.

Challenges to VPA implementation

After an intensive period of national and bilateral negotiations, in the implementation phase the action shifts to national processes for both ratifying the VPA and implementing necessary systems and reforms. This shift in focus may involve different stakeholders.

It becomes essential for partner-country governments to secure resources for implementation and to maintain multistakeholder participation. Importantly, the move to implementation may require significant changes to common practices. Governments may face challenges in balancing actions to implement the technical and governance aspects of the agreement.

VPA experiences to date indicate that momentum has often dropped in the shift from negotiations to implementation. Momentum can be maintained if the EU and the VPA partner country create an interim structure, such as a ‘pre-joint implementation committee' or ‘joint preparatory committee', to operate in the period between the end of negotiations and ratification of a VPA. Such a committee also helps the in-country EU delegation as it takes over from the EC as the European Union lead in the VPA process after the negotiations end and the parties sign the agreement.

Fresh challenges may emerge when a VPA process moves from the negotiation phase into the implementation phase. For example, private-sector stakeholders often only realise the challenge of complying with the legality definition during implementation. In the case of Indonesia, in the implementation phase the furniture sector lobbied for special conditions and more time to adapt to VPA requirements.

Emerging issues or changes to trends in the forest sector since VPA negotiations began can also affect implementation. Ghana, for instance, did not import timber when VPA negotiations started but does now, with consequences for supply chain control and other aspects of the VPA.

Growing threats to forests from agricultural conversion or mining, as opposed to illegal logging, may also create new challenges. One challenge is how to deal with timber from forest conversion in the framework of a VPA.

More information

External links

Indonesia-EU Action Plan on Advancement of VPA Implementation. [Download PDF]

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]

Centre pour l'Environnement et le Développement. 2013. The challenges of implementing VPA in Cameroon. Policy Brief. April 2013. [Download PDF]