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.
Latest VPA update:
Lao CSOs have a ‘working principle’ to seek a review by government before sharing its view of the VPA process. There is therefore no independent view from Lao CSOs. Communications have been one of Fern’s concerns. The flow of information between and within stakeholders, the fact that their inputs either may not reach the decision-makers, or that it takes too long to get the approvals necessary for these inputs to be made available, are impediments to more meaningful contribution.
Participation has been in the form of invitations to meetings where presentations from CSOs are welcomed (though sometimes the validity of CSO reports are questioned), some recommendations are taken up, and opportunities exist for questions, and informal discussion and sharing of views in the breaks. One example of this is that the government accepted the CSOs’ suggestion about appropriate compensation for villagers when harvesting timber from production forests in areas where village forests are located. The EU Delegation to Laos recognises that CSOs understand better how to engage in the process and get their comments on Timber Legality Definition (TLD) developments considered. The delegation also ensures CSOs that the EU door is open whenever they have concerns. The fourth negotiation round is due early 2020 which will look at the TLD, the Timber Legality Assurance System, conversion and village use forests. There is a new forest land law but issues around tenure, compensation and relocation remain vague. CSO research on these issues has been useful but needs to be followed up.
Last updated in January 2020.
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