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After eight years of negotiations, the VPA between Vietnam and the EU was signed on 19 October 2018 in Brussels. But civil society has been rightly concerned about such a deal being signed whilst Vietnam remains a regional hub for illegal timber.

Vietnam is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of wood products. Forests cover about 45 percent of Vietnam’s land area. 

There is a long tradition of small-scale timber processing operations in Vietnam, which is currently the largest timber processing hub in South East Asia. Tens of thousands of small household producers make a living turning wood from natural forests into household items, construction timber and other products for both domestic and international use. A majority of these producers only sell their products domestically. Mostly, the industry continues to rely on imports for about 80 percent of its timber, including from Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

Photo by Filip Verbelen, Greenpeace

Latest VPA update:

Since the previous VPA Update, both the EU and Vietnam prepared intensively for the official signing of the VPA (FW 240), which took place in Brussels, Belgium, 19 October 2018. It is expected the agreement will be ratified by the Prime Minister of Vietnam before the end of 2018, beginning the official implementation phase; and on the EU side, in early 2019. 

Work continues to integrate the VPA requirements into Vietnam’s national legal framework. The Vietnamese Forest Administration (VNFOREST) has been busy finalising four Government Decrees1 and seven Ministerial Circulars to be approved and issued by the end of 2018. These documents are to guide the implementation of the new Law on Forestry, which will enter into effect in early 2019. 

The provision on Vietnam’s Legality Assurance System (VNTLAS) was included in a separate chapter of the draft decree guiding implementation of certain articles of the Forestry Law. However, after the first round of consultations, VNFOREST decided not to include it in the final decree, mainly because more time is needed to develop the Organisations Classification System (OCS; a register of companies exporting timber and timber products) and other elements of VNTLAS. The Multi-stakeholder Implementation Core Group (Core Group) learned in July 2018 that a separate decree will be proposed to cover elements of VNTLAS, including the OCS, timber import controls, timber export verification and FLEGT licensing. Drafting of this decree has not started yet, which might slow down VPA implementation. 

In the three surveys conducted by the VNGO-FLEGT Network in recent months, the regulation focuses more on document control, although there is a significant need to monitor how the regulation is implemented in practice. Households, and micro and small enterprises are reluctant to undertake administrative procedures with government officials because they feel officials would create difficulties. 

The VNGO-FLEGT Network mobilised its members to provide comments on a draft circular of considerable interest, providing detailed guidance on a Forest Product Dossier and Traceability of Product’s Origin, which the Government opened for public comment. This circular will update and replace eight existing legal documents, and is expected to ease the implementation of all procedures related to handling forest products generally, and timber in particular. The Network, together with the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA), submitted a 19-page written comment to VNFOREST, but as yet have had no indication of whether these will be taken into consideration – nor even regarding whether this important decree has been finalised. 

The Core Group held its fourth meeting to agree an action plan for the remainder of 2018 and to introduce the new chair and elect a new cochair of the group. The new co-chair is a Timber Association representative; the previous co-chair was a CSO representative. In this meeting, the Core Group agreed that a website for the group will be developed and a regulation on administration and management of the website will be drafted. 

It is hoped that the website will be an effective channel for disclosing information, as required by Annex VIII of the VPA. 

According to this Annex, information that is difficult to access (forest land use planning and allocation, forest management, information on forest related crimes and sanctions) or has never been previously public (data on timber industry) will be made available. In 2019, Vietnamese authorities will assess the current state of transparency in the forest sector and develop an action plan to implement Annex VIII, in collaboration with the Core Group. 

VNFOREST released an official letter requesting organisations working on the FLEGT-VPA not to carry out consultations, communication or training without prior agreement of VNFOREST to avoid miscommunication and the conveying of inappropriate messages. 

CSOs raised concerns that this may delay their activities. VNFOREST held a meeting with these CSOs to clarify the issue, at which they asked NGO to submit VPA communications to see how long it would take for VNFOREST to endorse them. Since the last update, the minutes of the first JPC meeting have been uploaded on VNFOREST’s website. In the minutes, there is a tentative roadmap for VPA approval and priority actions for the year 2018, according to which it is expected that the Prime Minister will ratify the VPA by the end of 2018. 

Last update on December 2018.

A brief history of VPA negotiation so far, from a civil society perspective.

The Government of Vietnam and the EU announced the start of formal VPA negotiations in 2010. In 2011, the government launched independent studies on the timber legality definition framework, domestic and imported timber flows, and stakeholder engagement.

The issue of how Vietnam’s VPA will deal with timber imported from neighbouring countries, particularly Laos, has become increasingly prominent in the negotiations, and was the subject of much discussion during the third negotiating session in November 2012. Vietnam is not currently able to demonstrate the legality of all of its timber imports. The EU was adamant during these discussions that unless the issue of imports was resolved, there would not be a VPA. At the fourth negotiating session, in October 2014, the Vietnamese government tabled a proposal for dealing with legality questions around im­ported timber. The proposal has not yet been made public.

Contact point

For the latest information about Vietnam, contact SRD: http://srd.org.vn/

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