EU-Indonesia reach historic agreement on illegal timber
AFTER four years of negotiations, the EU and Indonesia have this week finalised an historic new trade agreement to stem the flow of illegal timber to European markets.
The Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is the first ever in Asia and will govern a trade estimated to be worth about US$1 billion a year.
Once the VPA is operational, Indonesia will only permit the export of timber licensed from a national timber legality assurance system and, for their part, EU customs authorities will prevent any unlicensed Indonesian products from entering the EU.
The VPA is a massive blow to the timber barons who have long been ransacking Indonesia’s precious rainforests, and is the culmination of more than a decade of relentless campaigning by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency and its Indonesian partners Telapak to expose the criminals involved in illegal logging, lobby for legislative change and build the capacity of Indonesian civil society.
Final negotiations for the VPA were concluded on Thursday, April 14 in Brussels, and it is expected to be formally signed in Jakarta on May 5.
“This is an incredibly important milestone,” said EIA Senior Campaigner Faith Doherty, who in 2000, with an Indonesian colleague, was kidnapped, beaten, threatened with death and pressed at gunpoint to recant evidence of widespread forestry crime in Indonesia, uncovered by EIA and its local partner Telapak.
“Things have come a long way from the early days of EIA’s work in Indonesia with Telapak, when we began to reveal the extent of illegal logging and its appalling environmental and social costs, and to expose the major criminal operations running it and the corruption allowing them to do so.
“We took huge risks to tackle a seriously corrupt system which protected violent and extremely powerful businessmen, pressing on even as the many cases of corruption we exposed were met with a wall of silence.”
The VPA is a key plank of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative which is seeking to establish systems to halt the sale of illegal timber products to the EU and address forest governance issues.
In future, the Indonesian Government wants all timber production to be subjected to a national timber legality assurance system known as the Sistem Verifikasi Legalitas Kayu (SVLK), which means independent auditing by ISO-accredited auditors against a multi-stakeholder legality standard. Indonesian civil society is now formally part of the Independent monitoring system of Indonesia’s new law.