The VPA process in Laos (in formal negotiations since 2017) has moved forward significantly in the past six months, and stakeholders are continuing to work together closely.
The forests of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic cover about 40% of the country. It is a major exporter of timber to Vietnam. Land clearing during the conversion of natural forest areas to non-forest or plantation use is the main source of timber in Laos, in particular land clearing for large infrastructure projects. Most export timber goes to neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand, but some export timber goes to China as well. By entering into a VPA with the EU, Laos aims to improve opportunities for the Lao timber industry to access the EU market, diversify their timber products and increase revenue from timber exports.
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Discussions between the EU and Laos have advanced in some areas, particularly on some timber legality definitions. There is near agreement on what constitutes a ‘production forest’, what labour standards companies must apply and what activities fall under ‘wood-processing and trade’.
Other aspects of the VPA negotiations have lost momentum, however. Draft timber legality definitions concerning plantations, conversion areas, village-use forest, confiscated timber and imported timber will not be ready by the end of the year as originally planned. Delays here are linked to ongoing reforms of forestry and land laws as well as the plantation decree. Adoption of these regulations has been postponed until 2019 as several issues still need to be addressed.
Disrupting matters further, over the past few months, Laos had faced major floods and natural disasters as well as the collapse of a hydroelectric dam in the southern part of the country, leaving many dead and thousands homeless. These dramatic events have understandably shifted policy priorities. The timing of the next face-to-face negotiation is therefore uncertain.
Progress has been made on issues regarding land-use conversion such as improved clarity on procedures for applying for concessions in conversion areas, the location of the permit for conversion and sizes of targeted conversion areas.
Lao CSOs have been quite vocal during their participation in formal technical working groups. One of their main concerns is how forest communities will benefit from timber use: the Lao government has refused to agree to a timber legality definition of ‘village-use forest’, asserting that these are for customary and subsistence use only, not for commercial use (VPA Update June 2018). Lao CSOs are currently completing research and will present the results in the upcoming technical working groups. Other research led by Lao CSOs focuses on improving communities’ and NGOs’ understanding of compensation mechanisms in situations where communities must be resettled due to conversion of forested areas. Again, initial findings should be available before the end of the year on Logging Off.
Formal negotiations have not yet begun on transparency. Lao CSOs, however, are conducting an exhaustive analysis of the legal framework surrounding transparency and public disclosure of information in the forest sector that should be completed by spring 2019. They are assessing gaps in existing provisions by comparing them with international standards and good practices in investment projects and highlighting the challenges. Particular attention will be given to community access to information in forest areas that are targeted for conversion to other uses. The outcomes of the research will inform VPA discussions and emphasise the need to develop a VPA annex on transparency.
Last updated in December 2018.
For the latest information about Laos, contact:
Association for Rural Mobilisation and Improvement (ARMI):
Amphone SOUVANNALATH: firstname.lastname@example.org
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