A decision on whether Guyana will join a European Union (EU) trade accord to ensure that only legally harvested timber is imported into the EU is likely to be made shortly.
Guyana is considering entering into a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU under its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) programme and held an awareness workshop on the topic yesterday. VPAs are a central element of the EU’s strategy to combat illegal logging and ensure legal timber trade as well as support good forest governance in the partner countries.
Once agreed, the VPAs will include commitments and action from both parties to halt trade in illegal timber, notably with a licence scheme to verify the legality of timber exported to the EU. Although voluntary, VPAs are legally-binding on the two parties, once agreed. The agreements also promote better enforcement of forest law and promote an inclusive approach involving civil society and the private sector.
Head of the Planning and Development Division at the Guyana Forestry Division, Pradeepa Bholanath told Stabroek News that while the decision on whether or not to join will be made at a higher level, this decision is going to be made in the near future.
EU representative, Norbert Probst, said countries that join the programme would have an edge over others not involved. “It is quite clear that those market players who adapt most rapidly to ever changing market conditions and take steps to meet customers’ demands such as traceability, and a due diligence system, will have an advantage over their competitors and be well positioned in the contest for market shares,” he said. Considerable progress has been made here, he added.
The workshop’s chair, Mohindra Chand echoed this and said that a preliminary assessment by the EU reported that Guyana is in a “superior starting position” for the FLEGT programme. To enter into negotiations for the VPA “would mean that regulation and governance would be improved with greater accountability and transparency,” he said.
Bholanath said that the EU market is very vital to Guyana and she pointed out that over the past three years, the export value of forest products to that market has been between US$5M to US$6M out of between US$40M and US$58M in total exports.
Key to the VPA process, she explained, is the definition of legality. Guyana would get to mold its own definition, she said. “In forming the definition Guyana would essentially be formulating what the requirements that we would like to be subject to, to apply to the EU-FLEFT programme were we to take that route,” she explained. “We would set up a legality standard that would be appropriate for us so that we would end up not having a standard that we could not comply with but at the end of the day it would also have to be given the support of the EU programme because it would have to comply with the main tenets that they have set up,” she added.
Bholanath said that the definition can have multiple parts like one part focusing on indigenous people, mining, forest concessions and so on. “It is our hope that in defining legality, we would define legality to be one that takes cognizance of the realistic and national appropriate situation on the ground,” she said.
FAO representative in Guyana, Lystra Fletcher-Paul, noted that a VPA while not a conditionality for export, will make export to Europe quicker and easier. “We are pleased to see that the project is progressing well. We have noted that to date, a checklist was developed for the Legal Verification System using draft standards from the Draft Guyana Legality Assurance System and that this checklist is being tested with the companies who have agreed to start the legality process,” she said.
Fletcher-Paul disclosed that five companies have begun to test the legality systems and at least two companies have had gap assessment and facilitation visits.
Yesterday’s workshop was the second in the “Building capacity within the Guyanese forestry sector to meet FLEGT Due Diligence requirements” project.
It is being implemented through a Letter of Agreement of US$ 102 400 between the FAO and the Forest Products Association, under the ACP-FLEGT Support Programme. It is part of the FAO’s on-going efforts to support the government of Guyana to build capacity within the forest sector to meet FLEGT Due Diligence requirements. This will enable the country to meet Europe’s legislative requirements of excluding illegal timber from the market.
Under Guyana’s forests protection partnership with Norway, the government has agreed to show evidence of entering a formal dialogue with the EU with the intent of joining FLEGT and moving towards a VPA.
Georgetown and Norway in November 2009 inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing that Oslo would pay potentially up to a total of US$250 million ($51.7 billion) by 2015 for this country to preserve its forests. It has already paid US$70M into an account overseen by the World Bank.