Landmark EU/Indonesia timber agreement now legally binding
Following the European Union’s ratification of the landmark Indonesia/EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) last month, Indonesia yesterday (Thursday) confirmed the agreement through a Presidential Regulation.
This VPA is one of the key components of Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan which will ensure that only legally sourced timber and wood products are allowed onto EU markets from a VPA partner country. VPA ratification by both Indonesia and EU means that the bilateral treaty has now become official – and legally binding..
Indonesia sadly has one of the world’s worst deforestation rates and lost about 28 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2005. Illegal logging was so rampant that a 2007 UN report estimated 73-88 per cent of all timber logged in Indonesia was being illegally sourced.
During a Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) ministerial conference in Bali in 2001, Indonesia and 10 other countries in the East Asia and Pacific region jointly announced the need to take immediate action and strengthen bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation to address illegal logging and its associated trade.
On top of enforcement operations to tackle illegal logging, Indonesia began to work on its timber legality definition in 2002, aiming to put a system in place capable of verifying the legal compliance of timber operators in Indonesia. The Indonesian Timber Legality Verification System, or SVLK in Indonesian, was developed via a multi-stakeholder platform and adopted in 2009 through a Ministerial Regulation followed by an implementing regulation in 2010. Of key importance was that it included civil society independent monitor, giving credibility to the system. This regulation has undergone several revisions, with the latest issued in 2013 to strengthen its implementation.
Parallel to the SVLK process, the Government of Indonesia entered formal VPA negotiations with the EU in 2007. The Indonesian side once again used a multi-stakeholder approach in negotiating, including representatives of stakeholders in the negotiation team of the Indonesian delegate. After a number of sessions, including Technical Working Group and Joint Expert Mechanism meetings, the VPA was concluded in May 2011.
The ratification of the VPA will serve to bring Indonesia and the EU closer to issuing FLEGT-licensed timber, which will happen when both parties determine that Indonesia’s SVLK meets the requirements set out in the VPA. A joint action plan was agreed in November 2013, based on the results of the independent assessment of the SVLK, and is currently being implemented to advance the VPA implementation.
Still, despite many positive steps, the SVLK remains a work in progress and has some serious weaknesses: a lack of transparency and difficult access to public information needed by independent monitors of the system; the unsatisfactory handling of complaints by relevant authorities; the rights of other forest users; conflicts arising from questionable permit issuance; and unverified timber entering the supply chain.
Corruption and weak law enforcement still remain important issues which need to be tackled effectively. The recent court case of Labora Sitorus, a policeman prosecuted for illegal logging and money laundering, shows how the Indonesian Government remains unable to effectively deal with the corruption entrenched in the country’s justice system – the same corruption which also significantly undermines efforts to clean up the forest and timber sector through the SVLK.
EIA has worked with Indonesian civil society organisations for more than a decade to tackle illegal logging and improve forest governance through high-profile campaigns and involvement in SVLK and FLEGT VPA. The current process to revise the SVLK is an opportunity to deal with the remaining loopholes and systemic flaws and it may take some time before credible FLEGT-licensed timber from Indonesia is ready to enter the EU market.
The VPA is so much more than just a trade agreement – it is also a tool to improve governance in the forest sector, an issue with which Indonesia still struggles.
The Indonesian Government needs to step-up and prove its commitment made in Bali to address illegal logging, corruption and forest governance in a transparent, participatory and comprehensive manner while at the same time protecting the rights and improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.