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By Dato’ Dr Freezailah Che Yeom
Advisor to MPIC on Malaysia-EU FLEGT VPA
There can be few people who are not aware of the state of world’s forests which has shrunk from some 6.0 billion hectares, before mankind had any impact on forests, to the current estimated area of 3.6 billion hectares, more or less equally distributed between tropical and non-tropical countries
The tropical forest crisis is especially alarming. Tropical deforestation continues at some 11 million hectares annually, in addition to their varying degrees of degradation which is difficult to estimate. Sustainable management of tropical forests is not widespread. Out of the total 306.3 million hectares of forests which have been certified worldwide as sustainably managed, tropical timber forests, account for only about 7%. Another serious problem is illegal logging and the associated trade in illegal timber. From the standpoint of forest management, legal timber is a fundamental step in the process of achieving sustainable timber, the definition of which embraces a wider set of principles and criteria when compared to legal timber.
The tropical forest crisis has spawned any number of conferences and initiatives to combat illegal logging and promote sustainable forest management, in the long-term. Indeed, the whole world maybe said to be in a brain-storming session. Combating illegal-logging has also emerged in the agenda of the G-8 countries.
One of the earliest initiatives to combat illegal-logging was coordinated by the World Bank and certain countries under the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) programme under which a series of Regional Ministerial Conferences were held, the first being in Bali, Indonesia, in 2001. Malaysia was of the view that such initiatives focusing solely on the supply side, without the element and link with, illegal timber trade, from the demand side, would be fundamentally flawed and obviously biased.
In 2003, the European Commission announced its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan with several components, one which is activities to promote trade in legal timber through Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). Thus, with the inclusion of the element of trade, the EU FLEGT Action Plan differs from the earlier initiative coordinated by the World Bank. Malaysia is the first country to commence formal negotiations to conclude a VPA which was announced on 25 September 2006.
This paper briefly discusses the essentials of the VPA and certain perspectives of the negotiations which need clarity on issues in the negotiations in addition to implications once the VPA is concluded.