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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The VPA between Honduras and the EU was agreed one year ago, riding a great wave of enthusiasm. Since then, work toward eventual ratification and implementation has gotten underway to fill in the many details, implicating a multitude of actors, with fewer spectacular – or even visible – results. The complexity of aligning goals and creating VPA structures and systems, often from scratch, is setting in. Enthusiasm and commitment remain but with actual progress much more incremental, and after all the years of negotiation, motivation is currently at a low ebb.
In the last update the Honduran executive was working to identify areas where the Honduran and VPA regulatory frameworks needed to be adjusted, that was to be sent to Congress for debate. At its second meeting in March 2019, the pre-Joint Implementation Committee (pre-CCA; pre-Comité Conjunto de Aplicación) featuring Honduran and EU representatives, agreed to accelerate the process and sign the VPA in the coming months. VPA “buzz” is palpable: the VPA remains at the forefront of political consciousness, and is mentioned frequently in broader discussions.
Work continues to prepare for implementation of the Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS). This involves not only developing criteria and procedures, but also at times creating the responsible institutions and structures; identifying actors who will be charged with the work, and the funding they will need; and defining the tasks they must carry out. Here again, as details multiply, fatigue is setting in.
This does not mean that successes are lacking, however: the five-year plan outlining broad VPA priorities has been completed. The Comité Técnico, a multi-stakeholder group that stands out for its remarkable cooperation, finalised a roadmap, which was approved at the March meeting of the pre-CCA.
Another significant achievement is the creation of a designated technical secretariat to coordinate VPA implementation. Rather than tacking VPA-related tasks to the existing workloads of other administrators, the government has devoted specific resources to the Secretaría Técnica del AVA (SETAVA) a new entity with the exclusive focus of assisting and coordinating the various actors with implementation of the VPA.
Until recently, SETAVA were occupied with setting up shop; they are currently working with the support of an EU-funded consultant to prepare a draft communication strategy for the JIC. A strong basic version has been drawn up, to be discussed and approved by the parties. It will help SETAVA familiarise other public institutions that will be involved in implementing the VPA. These institutions will be instrumental in bringing the terms of the VPA from Tegucigalpa to the countryside and to far-flung municipalities. They will also be instituting a culture of legality there, affecting how the VPA will be enforced. At present, some municipalities fear that their power will diminish, and are therefore considering the VPA and its obligations with suspicion. People are eager to see how this will function.
Among the tasks featured on the roadmap, one of the most fundamental and challenging is to clarify land tenure where conflictual or confusing situations exist. Although determining ownership is extremely difficult, the multi-year plan sets a target to regularise 100,000 hectares of traditional lands over the next two years. So far this year, the Institute of Forest Conservation (ICF) has regularised 11,000 hectares.
The land tenure situation may illustrate one reason that motivation has drained: Even good news does not get out. For example, the ICF website has long been down, meaning that the news that 11,000 hectares of land had already been regularised was discovered only with insider knowledge and after considerable hunting. The fundamental difficulty is to create a new culture of transparency where no previous tradition exists. Failure to reveal information may not be due to bureaucratic unwillingness to publicise, but because no one has the reflex to make information known, or because the relevant data do not exist. Information that would be helpful in compiling records of ownership, for example, has not been sifted through or was never put in writing, and gathering such basic data is a daunting task.
Finally, participation and stakeholder cooperation remain one of the great successes of the VPA process. ICF continues to maintain exchanges with CSOs, which often have access to more accurate information than government institutions. Positive experiences with VPA stakeholder participation has caused others to raise the question of why such consultations do not yet exist in other sectors. Previously, Indigenous Peoples had expressed discontent with processes that treated them as a homogenous bloc. After the initialling, in addition to the umbrella organisation CONPAH (Confederación de los Pueblos Autóctonos de Honduras), which participated from the second round of negotiations, other Indigenous Peoples organisations such as the Mesa de Unidad del Pueblo Lenca in Honduras (MUPILH) joined the VPA process.
Work continues, ant-like, on many fronts. It would be helpful to boost morale by better publicising even small successes, as pressure mounts to achieve results and work toward ratification and eventual FLEGT licensing. Nonetheless, CSOs are confident that, as successes build, enthusiasm, like the waves, will return with greater energy.
Last updated in July 2019.
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