Democratic Republic of the Congo
VPA negotiations in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) kicked off in 2010, but frequently stalled. Negotiations currently appear off the agenda, with national and international attention rather directed towards REDD.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo forests cover an area of 2 million square kilometres of which roughly half are closed high rainforests and the remainder open forests and woody savannah. DRC is the fifth most biodiverse country on earth.
The VPA process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, almost dormant between 2013 and 2016, has been somewhat reinvigorated over the last two years. Support from DFID has helped update the existing legality grids (2017), and support from Belgian cooperation allowed reflection on the best way to proceed with FLEGT, given the complex governance situation prevailing in the country (2018). Indeed, the context is particularly challenging. Political violence and government repression continue as President Joseph Kabila holds on to power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ended in 2016. At least seventy armed groups are believed to be operating in the eastern region, 4.1 million people are internally displaced and an outbreak of Ebola has been reported recently.
In such a context any progress is hard won, yet in February 2018, a Ministerial Decree updated the legal framework governing the work of the VPA-FLEGT Technical Commission (CT FLEGT) and reviewed and expanded the Commission’s mandate and organisation. This multi-stakeholder Commission support the VPA negotiations and should also be used – given its renewed mandate – to support consultation in other processes such as REDD+ and EUTR.
The CT FLEGT has recently updated legality grids, one on industrial logging and two on artisanal logging and these have been submitted to the EU. The legality grid on community forestry timber is in the making. Drafts of technical documents such as the annexes on the product scope, the list of information that must be disclosed and initial legality verification procedures have also been prepared.
Although the Technical Commission is keen to ensure that VPA negotiations make progress, significant international and national concern surrounds the DRC’s commitment to improving legality and transparency in the sector. The DRC’s recently announced abandonment of the 16-year moratorium on new logging licenses reinforces doubts. Many national and international observers consider lifting the moratorium a dangerous first step towards the expansion of poorly controlled industrial logging, risking significant harm to Congolese communities and forests, as well as the global climate.
Before re-launching any fully fledged negotiation process, the EU informed the DRC that VPA negotiations cannot be conducted as a mere technical debate, in isolation from the wider forest governance picture. This implies that issues such as the lifting of the moratorium should be discussed between stakeholders as part of VPA negotiations.
Congolese and international CSOs have expressed considerable concern about the non-inclusive process of revising the Forest Code, which is happening behind closed doors. The fact the Minister of Environment illegally reinstated three logging concessions, despite previous cancellation and in breach of the 2002 Moratorium, is cause for further alarm.
National and international NGOs have recently called on international donors, including the EU and its Member States, to link future REDD+ funding to clearer and effective government commitment toward more transparent and efficient public management and control of logging activities and improved legality throughout the sector. Commendably, CAFI (Central African Forest Initiative) later decided to freeze all CAFI funds, until the three illegal contracts are rescinded.
Last updated in June 2018.
A brief history of the VPA process, from a civil society perspective
In 2006, Fern commissioned the report Forest governance in DRC, with recommendations for a VPA in the country. Negotiations formally opened in 2010, with the aim of signing an agreement within three years.
A VPA Technical Negotiation Committee was set up, with 33 members representing all parties involved in the DRC forestry sector: the government, the private sector, civil society, etc. At the first negotiation session in February 2010, it became clear that 80% of timber exported from the DRC is destined for Europe. In 2011, the Government formally invited civil society to join the VPA negotiations, although the process was suspended a few months later in the run up to presidential elections.
Progress then stalled until 2012, when the technical negotiation committee submitted an initial draft legality grid for forest industry concessions, but there has been virtually no movement since that point.
Much more government attention (and civil society attention) is currently paid to establishing REDD in DR Congo.
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