Photo by Christian Junker, Flickr/cc.
Approximately 43% of Myanmar territory is covered by forests. But between 2010 and 2015, about 8.6% of the country’s tree cover were lost, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). In 2015, the FLEGT inception workshop took place and Myanmar’s FLEGT process began. But today the continuation of the informal preparatory phase is uncertain.
In the last update, continuation of the informal VPA preparatory phase was uncertain, as the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) had halted funding in response to the crisis in Rakhine State. Since then, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) EU FLEGT Programme has provided interim funding. Progress toward beginning VPA negotiations in Myanmar remains quite slow, although Myanmar’s stakeholders remain committed to FLEGT.
FAO-EU FLEGT Programme support currently takes the form of conducting routine meetings of the national and state/regional Multi-stakeholder Working Groups (MSG) and funding the FLEGT Secretariat that organises these meetings. The MSG has defined an annual workplan focused on the achievement of milestones previously identified with DFID support, as part of a preparatory phase that may confirm whether Myanmar could engage in formal VPA negotiations with the EU. The first milestone they hope to begin work on is the development of a timber legality definition, but long-term funding support should be committed before concrete planning and dialogue begins.
The work to define chain of custody (CoC) of timber, carried out previously with DFID support, might constitute a first substantive step towards a timber legality definition. A “dossier” outlining the CoC process in detail had previously been developed, giving sample documents required at each of the 30 steps to facilitate verification of legal compliance by independent bodies and monitoring by CSOs. Training for those who would be responsible for implementation and verification was the necessary next step. In this regard, Nature Economy and People Connected (NEPcon) will begin conducting an assessment of the CoC Dossier in July 2019, with funding from the European Timber Trade Federation. FAO training on the CoC Dossier is planned after that, depending on the results of the assessment.
Clarification of land tenure remains necessary. The law on Virgin, Vacant and Fallow Land (VVFL) considers ungazetted land ‘vacant’ and had been amended in a way that likely weakens the position of traditional occupants. It is unclear how the Forest Law passed in 2018, giving communities stronger rights to forest lands, interacts with broader land tenure issues. However, the implementing rules of the new Forest Law are a significant issue in Myanmar, and this is one area where it is hoped that the MSG could push reform and contribute to improved governance. This could be done by enabling national MSG members to provide inputs during the consultation process on implementing rules. The FAO-EU FLEGT Programme and a number of other international organisations and development partners have provided funding to conduct public consultations on the revised Forest Rules. This consultation process, organised by the Forestry Department, conducted meetings in each of Myanmar’s 15 states/regions. Ideally, the input received from local stakeholders will be reflected in the final version.
Future FAO support to FLEGT work in Myanmar will depend on the development of a national FLEGT Roadmap, which will inform the allocation of grants or a possible national call for proposals to be issued during the second half of 2019. Meanwhile, the FAO is funding parallel FLEGT projects that provide useful inputs for the multi-stakeholder dialogue, such as awareness-raising on FLEGT and piloting of a legal timber harvest in community forests (see here and here for more).
The future of the VPA process in Myanmar is uncertain, and official VPA negotiations remain a distant possibility. The FAO has committed funds through the end of 2019 and could potentially fund FLEGT work in Myanmar until the end of 2021. This does not yet amount to a long-term solution.
Discouraged by past experiences, some view the attempt to reform the illegal timber trade through FLEGT with scepticism. A former CSO representative pointed out that EIA’s recent report demonstrates continued corruption in Myanmar’s timber trade. It was feared that CSOs would be prevented by the government from monitoring and verifying the CoC. There was also concern that although the FLEGT Secretariat looked viable, its effectiveness would depend on more accurate representation by the Myanmar Timber Enterprise, the state timber monopoly, “and there is little chance of that.”
Last updated in July 2019.
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