The challenge of realizing the VPA / FLEGT Agreement

VCN - Recently, a Voluntary Partnership Agreement on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (VPA / FLEGT) between Vietnam and the EU has been signed, which shall open a great opportunity to promote wood exports to the EU market and to contribute to the sustainable development of the forestry sector. However, the realization of this agreement is not simple.
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The legal origin of wood is an important requirement for companies to promote wood exports to the EU. Photo: Nguyen Thanh

Obstructed by current regulations

In order to serve the wood processing industry as well as domestic consumption, Vietnam has been importing wood from many markets, including high-risk markets on the legality of raw wood such as Cambodia, Africa and so on.

One of the typical locations for wood imports from Cambodia is Le Thanh International Border Gate (Gia Lai). Mrs. Le Thi Thanh Huyen - Deputy Director of Gia Lai-Kon Tum Customs Department said: in 2018, wood imports mainly took place in Gia Lai province but did not in Kon Tum province.

At Le Thanh International Border Gate in the last days of November, 2018, the wood imports were so sparse. In fact, the survey of a number of prominent wood importers in Gia Lai province also shows that: In recent years, the volume of imported wood from Cambodia has gradually reduced. However, the volume of illegally imported wood is difficult to control. Remarkably, concerns over the legality of imported wood from Cambodia in order to meet the requirements of the VPA / FLEGT Agreement are quite clear.

Talking about this issue, Mr. Nguyen Nhi - Deputy Director of Gia Lai Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Manager of Gia Lai Branch of Forest Protection said that up to now, imported wood in Gia Lai province are mainly from Laos. and Cambodia. In addition to border-gate imports, the Ministry of Industry and Trade authorized the People's Committee of Gia Lai province to import nearly 300,000 m3 of wood through the trails in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

"The local forest protection agency is the unit in charge of monitoring whether there is a mix of imported wood with domestic wood or not, but it does not know all sources of imported wood. This is considered as a loophole in the domestic forest management. We want to implement the management in the same way as the VPA / FLEGT Agreement, which manage inputs and outputs from harvesting to transportation and consumption, ect. According to current regulations, there are items subject to management at a certain stage, which raises many loopholes in the sale, business, transportation and consumption of wood," said Mr. Nhi.

From 2019, when the Forest Law 2017 came into force, Mr. Nhi asked the Forest Protection Agency to certify imported forest products. Specifically, for imported forest products, local forest force is involved in management, control of data type and specifications from the beginning to have a basis for management in the domestic market. "I think if we do not directly inspect, witness and certify, it will be difficult to meet the strict management requirements, as well as the traceability of wood in the coming time will be difficult," emphasized Mr. Nhi

From the perspective of the customs, Mrs. Huyen said that: wood imports are now implemented in accordance with the common legal documents. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issued Circular 01/2012 / TT-BNNPTNT regulating legal dossier of forest products and the inspection of the origin of forest products. According to this Circular, a legal dossier includes: Customs declarations, forest product lists and CITES permits for wood required for this permit. In addition, the dossier must also contain foreign documents (if required).

"With the current regulations, it is not enough to commit a legal wood dossier, because Vietnam's regulations do not require export dossier from Cambodia but only import dossier. The Customs only ask for submission of all documents in the dossier according to the regulation," Mrs. Huyen stressed.

Close cooperation with exporting countries

According to Huyen, in the coming time, the Government, as well as other ministries and sectors, have to issue new regulations on forest products and specific regulations to prove the legal origin of wood during the management process when implementing VPA/FLEGT.

Regarding this content, Mr. Nhi further analyzed: At present, there is no mechanism for forest protection force to strictly control wood sources. With local management responsibility, local forest protection force cannot intervene in activities of foreign forest products. This requires regulations from the Ministry of Industry and Trade. For example, regulations on procedures for imported forest products, import quota, enterprises and individuals permitted to import.

"The Ministry of Industry and Trade should give some suggestions to Cambodia. In contrast, the EU should have a mechanism to cooperate with Vietnam in ensuring the legal origin of wood. The two states should have a mechanism to cooperate to ensure the legal origin of wood from the beginning to the end. The forest protection agency has been proposed to join and evaluate origin of wood from Cambodia at the initial import stage,’’ Mr. Nhi said.

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From the perspective of enterprises, Mr. Huynh Van Hanh - Vice President Handicraft and Wood Industry Association of Ho Chi Minh City (HAWA), suggested that the Vietnamese Government should coordinate with the Cambodian Government to consider a coordination mechanism to prevent illegal wood from Cambodia, and encourage the imports of wood originating from plantation forests, and forbid the imports of wood originating from natural forests.

Under the VPA / FLEGT, Vietnam is committed to developing and operating the Vietnam Timber Legality Assurance System (VNTLAS) in line with Vietnam's supply chain and EU regulations for identification and traceability of wood origin in the entire supply chain, which is used as a basis for Vietnamese authorities to grant FLEGT licenses for Vietnamese wood and wood products exported to the EU.

In return, Vietnamese wood and wood products with FLEGT licenses will not be subject to explanation for the legal origin of wood according to EUTR 995 regulation when exporting to the EU The VPA / FLEGT Agreement will bring many benefits to Vietnam in all three sectors of the economy, society and environment, especially for expanding export markets, reforming institutions on forest management, handling the illegal exploitation and trade of wood, contributing to the sustainable development of Vietnam's wood processing industry for exports.

By Thanh Nguyen/ Huyen Trang

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