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Historic agreement to curb stolen timber

AFTER four years of negotiations, the EU and Indonesia have this week finalised an historic new timber 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 partner 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. It is due to be formally signed in Jakarta on May 5.

“This is an incredibly important milestone,” said EIA Senior Campaigner Faith Doherty, who in 2000, along 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 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.

Interviews are available on request: please contact Faith Doherty, at
[email protected]
or telephone 0207 354 7960.

EDITORS’ NOTES

1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK-based Non Governmental Organisation and charitable trust (registered charity number 1040615) that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate and ozone-altering chemicals.

2. Four VPAs have been signed in Africa; Ghana, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville and Central African Republic.

3. The EU’s efforts under the FLEGT Action Plan are part of a global initiative to tackle illegal logging and associated trade. In the past three years, there have been two significant new measures in consumer countries: a) the amendment to the Lacey Act by the USA in 2008, which prohibits commerce in illegally sourced plants, including wood products; and b) the EU Timber Regulation approved in 2010 and enforced from March 3, 2013, which prohibits the sale of illegal timber in the EU. Similar policies have recently been outlined by the Australian Government, with New Zealand likely to follow suit. Japan and China are both examining further action on the trade of illegal timber and are taking a closer look at the SVLK and the export licensing arrangements being negotiated with the EU under the VPA.

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