Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with producer countries are one of the major components of the FLEGT Action Plan. Market benefits are the key consideration for any country entering into a VPA, and as such the introduction of the EU Timber Regulation to address the import of illegal timber products into the EU has become a very important driver for the increased interest in VPAs.
The key aim of the VPA is to put in place a licensing system to prove that the timber exported from that country is legal. However, the package of assistance offered by the EU will not only support the requirements of the legality licence and improve forest governance, but also provide wider benefits for the local communities and indigenous people. An overview of the process of VPA is provided in a document at the bottom of this webpage.
As the name suggests, the VPA is voluntary for producer countries. However, once the licensing system is up and running, no export from the partner country to the EU will be permitted unless it is accompanied by a legality licence. Each agreement with the EU is negotiated seperately and is individual to that country. Ghana was the first to sign a VPA in 2008; for an update on the Status of other VPA negotiations click here
Once the agreement has been signed then the work on the licensing system can begin. This can take time; in the case of Ghana, the testing and piloting of a licensing system ended last summer and they are just about to take the learning and develop a nationaiwde system. It is hoped this will be up and running by the end of 2012, so that first FLEGT licenced timber are available before the EU Timber Regulation enters into force in March 2013.
EU countries also have to have in place legislation within thier own national laws to accept and recognise FLEGT licensed timber. The UK legislation, implementing the EU FLEGT regulation, came into force as of the 20th February 2011 and the organisation responsible for it is the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
However this legislation does not actually become effective until the first FLEGT licensed timber is shipped to the UK, which is estimated to be towards the end of 2012 or early 2013. You can find more details about this legislation at the CPET website or the AHVLA website, including a useful briefing document that has been put together by DEFRA. This document, also accessible at the bottom of this page outlines the process that UK businesses will have to go thorugh to import FLEGT licensed timber.