The ratification process has been underway since Vietnam and the EU initialled the VPA on 11 May 2017. The legality of the timber imported from neighbouring countries to feed the Vietnamese wood processing industry has been a key issue in the talks.

There is a long tradition of small-scale timber processing operations in Vietnam, which is currently the largest timber processing hub in South East Asia. Tens of thousands of small household producers make a living turning wood from natural forests into household items, construction timber and other products for both domestic and international use. A majority of these producers only sell their products domestically.

Vietnam is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of wood products. Forests cover about 45 percent of Vietnam’s land area. However, the industry relies on imports for about 80 percent of its timber, including from Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.


vietnamphotorudiA brief history of VPA negotiations so far, from a civil society perspective

The Government of Vietnam and the EU announced the start of formal VPA negotiations in 2010. In 2011, the government launched independent studies on the timber legality definition framework, domestic and imported timber flows, and stakeholder engagement.

The issue of how Vietnam’s VPA will deal with timber imported from neighbouring countries, particularly Laos, has become increasingly prominent in the negotiations, and was the subject of much discussion during the third negotiating session in November 2012. Vietnam is not currently able to demonstrate the legality of all of its timber imports. The EU was adamant during these discussions that unless the issue of imports was resolved, there would not be a VPA. At the fourth negotiating session, in October 2014, the Vietnamese government tabled a proposal for dealing with legality questions around im­ported timber. The proposal has not yet been made public.

Negotiations in Vietnam are continuing, although civil society still has no formal role in the process and is hampered by this. The latest version of the legality definition has still not been made available to CSOs.

Changing the way forests are owned and managed?

Civil society participation

Following the announcement of the VPA negotiations in 2010, Fern organised a series of meetings to raise awareness among and about civil society groups with a stake in the negotiations. Seeing the opportunity, a group of Vietnamese NGOs began to coordinate themselves with a view to feeding into the process. Civil society participation in government negotiations is quite novel in Vietnam, and the government had already set up various VPA processes without clear agreement on stakeholder involvement.Following Fern’s initial

The first priorities for the NGO group were to secure its political space, build its capacity, and argue for time to provide its input into the fifth draft of the legality definition.

In 2012 this group became the VNGO-FLEGT network, formed of NGOs plus research institutes and development centres from Vietnamese universities.

The role of the civil society platform in Vietnam’s VPA process has never been formalised, and it has had to engage with the process on the government’s terms – for example, being debriefed at the end of a negotiating session, rather than being allowed to participate fully. However, civil society organisations have contributed actively, and have gained increasing recognition from the government for their work.

In addition to submitting comments on the legality definition and Legality Assurance System and conducting consultations with communities, the VNGO-FLEGT network has carried out a series of studies which it has presented to the government on issues related to the VPA. It has produced an assessment of the implementation of the 2004 Law on Forest Protection and Development as it relates households and communities. It has also carried out an extensive Livelihood Impact Assessment (LIA), analysing how the livelihoods of farmers without land use certificates, ethnic minorities who depend on forests, and small-scale wood processing households could be affected by the VPA. This study was very well-received by the government.

The LIA concluded that without adequate provisions, the incomes of small-scale timber growers and processors could suffer from the cost of compliance.

The VNGO-FLEGT network is seeking a formal role for civil society-led independent forest monitoring by communities, but the government has showed no signs of willingness to recognise this. Civil society organisations would also like to see a formal role for communities in assessing environmental impact and exploitation plans.


GIS training VietnamTransparency in Vietnam’s VPA process has been poor. The most recent draft of the Timber Legality Assurance System, from November 2014, has not been publicly released. Of 70 comments made about the VPA transparency annex by the Vietnamese civil society platform, only 20 were accepted, while the rest were dropped without opportunity for discussion or clear explanation. However, civil society organisations say that transparency is slowly improving.

Legal reform

Civil society organisations are advocating for legal reform, but the government insists that the VPA process is not a suitable forum to discuss this. However, it appears to be adopting a definition of land ownership within the VPA which is more sympathetic to forest dependent communities.

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This page most was last modified on 9 November 2016