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An important feature in the process to develop the TLAS is stakeholder consultations in an open and transparent manner during which the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities, seeks the views and inputs from all stakeholders on major issues and proposals. To date, four such stakeholder consultations have been convened; in Putrajaya (6 March 2007), Kota Kinabalu (22 June 2007), Kuching (15 March 2007) and Kuala Lumpur (17-18 March 2008). These consultations were well attended and stakeholders were able to present their views and concerns freely. The First Consultation was informative in order to create awareness about the VPA and important issues to be addressed in the negotiations with the EU. At the Second Consultation, initial proposals on the TLAS were introduced. At this consultation also, procedures on the conduct of stakeholder consultations were discussed and adopted. Proposals for the TLAS, taking into account inputs from the previous consultation, were presented at the Third Consultation held in Kuching. The TLAS proposals were intensively discussed and certain changes were proposed. These suggested changes, together with the written submissions received, were duly considered and the TLAS was amended by the Working Group (WG) and the National Steering Committee (NSC) as appropriate. The revised, TLAS was then subjected to further examination at the two-day Fourth Consultation to finalise the TLAS. Clarification was also provided in writing on suggestions not considered necessary or feasible for inclusion in the TLAS.
Certain stakeholder groups raised concern that the process of the stakeholder consultation followed was not adequate and inappropriate including timing, distribution of documentation, choice of Moderator and reporting by the secretariat. It is to be noted that the process and procedures followed were as adopted at the Second Consultation. It is accepted that these procedures are not permanent and can be reviewed and amended from time to time based on experience and resources. On the issue of resources, the support from the EU is gratefully acknowledged. The procedures for consultations must be considered as an evolving process but due consideration has to be given to implementation, practicality and other constraints. Nevertheless, the need to review the procedures should be considered at the appropriate time based on concrete proposals from stakeholders from time to time.
Another issue and concern that is often raised is on incentives which at times, surface as green premium. This is equally of concern to the EU in their negotiations because implementation of the VPA will mean higher costs. There must be some differentiation between timber verified for legality under the VPA and non VPA timber. Another related issue concerns the importation of timber from non VPA countries. It is to be noted that both sides recognise this problem. Indeed, a market study has been undertaken in order to determine what measures may be instituted to ensure some advantage for a VPA timber. The findings of this study will be presented later for discussion at this briefing.
A major issue raised and debated at all Stakeholder Consultations concern NCR matters. This is a very complex subject which has also been debated in other fora such as the Second Malaysian Forest Dialogue held on 22-23 October 2007 which was focused entirely on this topic. Recently, this was also an issue at a workshop organized by Transparency International Malaysia on 24-25 March 2008. Let me assure this meeting that all of us are equally concerned on NCR issues and the need to ensure that the rights of local communities, lawfully established, are not in any way infringed by the VPA. Indeed, in the TLAS, one principle is devoted to ‘Other Users Rights’. Annex A of the TLAS lists the relevant legislation for Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah, whilst Annex B gives details and control procedures regarding this principle. Some stakeholder groups argue that additional legislation on this issue should be included in the TLAS. In addition, recognition must also be given to certain traditional practices with regards to NCR. This problem is also compounded by issues relating to ‘user rights’ as against ‘ownership rights’. During all the debates and discussions the responsible authorities gave their views stressing that such concerns have been adequately addressed to the extent possible under the legal framework and be based on the interpretation of the relevant laws by the responsible authorities. And disputes will have to be settled through the judicial process. Nevertheless, there may be grey areas in certain aspects of the laws that govern NCR issues. They need to be reviewed and addressed, but such an exercise is not within the scope of the VPA which does not seek to enact new laws or amend existing legislation.
Another concern that has also been repeatedly raised by some stakeholders, is to have a more comprehensive coverage in laws and procedures that relate to labour and environment. These are included in the TLAS and specifically addressed at the ‘criteria’ level, as ‘Environmental Management’ and ‘Worker Safety and Health’. Once again, I must stress that we are targeting legal timber in the VPA and therefore cannot really be expected to include a more comprehensive set of legislation on these issues which are appropriate in forest certification for sustainability.
Some stakeholder groups requested that they be given the opportunity to participate in the drafting of the TLAS on the basis that this procedure is followed in certain countries negotiating the VPA with the EU. The VPA is being negotiated between the Government of Malaysia and the EU. The proposed TLAS is drafted by an inter-agency Working Group comprising of the main responsible Government Departments and agencies. The draft was then tabled for the consideration of the National Steering Committee before being subjected to a series of Stakeholder Consultations to receive the views and suggestions from all stakeholders to further refine the TLAS. To date four Stakeholder Consultations had been held and such process is considered adequate. Inclusion of all stakeholder groups in the Working Group to draft the TLAS is cumbersome and may be impractical.