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Photo: Joe Townsend, Flickr/cc. 

Honduras started negotiations with the EU in 2013 and the VPA was signed 14 June 2018. Indeed, the Honduran VPA seems to have triggered a national groundswell. By reducing the power of bureaucracy, Hondurans working to implement the VPA are sending a strong signal to other sectors. In terms of transparency and methods of consultation, the forest sector is by far the most advanced industrial sector in Honduras. 

Honduras has around 6.6 million hectares of forest, covering about 60 per cent of its land area. Forests are important to the Honduran economy, providing jobs and livelihoods for local people. Between 1990 and 2010, however, almost three million hectares of Honduran forests were destroyed.

Less than 2 per cent of Honduran timber exports Honduras are to the EU. Honduras has chosen to negotiate a VPA as a means to improve law enforcement, transparency and overall forest governance. In entering into a VPA process, Honduras aims to enable its wood products to meet the due diligence requirements of US legislation that prohibits imports of timber of illegal origin.

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Translating words into deeds is always difficult, but especially under current circumstances in Honduras. The political environment has not permitted much progress in the implementation of the VPA since negotiations concluded in June 2018. The Organisation of American States’ (OAS) Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de apoyo contra la corrupción y la impunidad: MACCIH), has continued to present accusations in court against recognised political leaders (especially from within the government party) for alleged embezzlement of public funds and abuse of authority. Additionally, in the last five years, Honduran courts approved some 41 extradition requests submitted by the United States Government against leaders of organised crime.

Following strong pushback from the political opposition, Honduran parties are launching an early campaign for the general elections scheduled to take place in November 2021. Given the political environment, the elaboration of the VPA’s Legality Assurance System is not a priority for the current Honduran government.

What could prove to be very important steps in securing the broader culture of accountability and in remedying impunity over the long term are slowing the achievement of VPA goals in the short term. The VPA has not advanced much at administrative and legal levels or at more operational/technical levels. The date of signature and subsequent ratification – crucial steps in the Agreement – remains uncertain.

The implementation of the TLAS articulated in the 2019 – 2023 Multiannual Plan is progressing slowly, due in great part to the Honduran government’s lack of a strategic, long-term view about how a system intended to issue proof of legality for the domestic market, and licences for the European and non-European markets will function. Additionally, how Honduras intends to uphold its commitment to facilitate the financial resources needed to realise the objectives and goals of the Multiannual Plan is not clear.

Despite such difficulties, Honduras and the EU have progressed, approving a communication strategy and Honduran multi-stakeholders have designed a methodology to evaluate and monitor the Multiannual and Annual Plan’s progress. The VPA has the support of the most influential actors in the Honduran forest sector. What has been accomplished so far is nonetheless insufficient, according to leaders from the private sector, Indigenous Peoples and civil society, yet hope and optimism still drive efforts to cooperate with the Honduran government in modernising the timber sector.

Given that many of the pending tasks relating to VPA implementation are the shared responsibility of the 19 public institutions involved in the TLAS, Honduras must organise at a strategic level, first within the government and then with the other involved parties, to define what type of system it wants and to identify the resources that will be needed to build this system.

At the same time, political will is needed to commit the human and financial resources that the Multiannual Plan requires, and to enhance the efficiency and credibility of the manner in which laws are enforced in order to guarantee that legality brings benefits for all.

For Honduran non-governmental sectors, priorities for the first half of 2020 are the advancement of the signature and ratification process, as well as the construction of the institution responsible for building the Legality Assurance System (Sistema para asegurar la legalidad de los productos forestales de Honduras: SALH) and its implementation.

As Minister of Social Affairs Zoila Cruz has said, the FLEGT-VPA should not be seen as a Forest Conservation Institute (Instituto de Conservación Forestal: ICF) commitment; it is a commitment of the Government of Honduras.

Last updated in January 2020.

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