There are hopes that the saga of the issuance of Forest Law Environment Governance Trade or Timber Legality Licence also known as FLEGT Licence in Ghana, will soon be over.
The issue will soon end not because the extant leases have now been converted into Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs), as this is still outstanding and a key element in the FLEGT process. Nor is it about whether the European Union (EU) has rescinded its decision to replace the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on trade in legal timber with a programme they see as “a real game-changer.” Because six months after a cross section of Ghanaian civil society appealed to the EU to rescind its decision to abandon FLEGT VPA, the Block has still not responded.
FLEGT VPA now part of Ghana’s forest laws
Reliable sources within the forestry sector intimated that the protracted process is coming to end, because government has decided to go ahead, complete the process and issue FLEGT Licences as part of its internal forest sector reforms.
“FLEGT VPA is now part of our national laws and is mandatory for the country to implement. So, naturally, government will continue FLEGT VPA the way it was started, focused on legality and sustainability,” the sources said.
Indications are that this position is accepted and endorsed by the Multi Stakeholder Implementation Committee (MSIC) on the VPA. MSIC brings together all major stakeholders involved in VPA implementation. They include Forestry Commission (FC), Ghana Revenue Authority- Customs Excise and Preventive Service (GRA-CEPS), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI), Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR) and civil society organisations (CSOs).
As a prove of government’s commitment to continuing the process, the Forestry Commission is developing management plans and updating existing ones to cover all forest reserves. This process is expected to be completed before the year ends. The Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, has also submitted a memo to Cabinet on the issue of conversion of all extant leases into TUCs.
With this development, the 12 years plus efforts and investment in the FLEGT VPA process will not go waste but will definitely yield the needed results – a FLEGT Licence the certifies that a timber or forest related product from Ghana is legal.
How relevant will this licence be?
The issue is without EU’s endorsement how relevant will such a Licence be? Some observers are of the view that if EU goes ahead with their intention and cancels FLRGT VPA, it will affect industry. This is because FLEGT VPA process provides a green lane for industry’s products to enter the EU market. So if VPA is canceled various investments industry has made will come to naught.
However, until the EU finalises its position, FLEGT Licences once issued will provide the green lane for exports especially to EU, which is Ghana’s largest importer of timber products.
A source at the Forest Industries Association of Ghana (FIAG) shares similar views. But adds that industry is unlikely to lose out, should EU go ahead with its current position.
“We have done what is required, cleaned up the sector by putting in place the needed systems, forest governance is now enhanced, and even the domestic industry appreciates the need to comply with sector regulations. So, once FLEGT Licences are issued we will be good to go with not just the EU markets, but with markets of the USA and Asia, who all have green considerations that must be met.”
Government’s decision to press on with FLEGT VPA has come after a period of an uneasy calm that engulfed the sector, following the publication of portions of the interim report of a fitness check the EU conducted on FLEGT in 2020. The report was not favourably disposed towards continuing FLEGT VPA.
The recommendation was to pursue Forest Partnership Programmes instead of FLEGT VPA. This is supposed to be an offshoot of the proposed Deforestation Regulation Proposal, which is a product of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENVI). The aim is to ensure that products imported into the EU are not associated with deforestation.
17 MEPs react to current form of the EU Regulations
While the proposal appears to be an ideal measure in halting tropical deforestation and conserving biodiversity, a group of Members of the European Parliament (MEP), has expressed concern about the likely effect of this regulation on producer countries.
In a letter issued to senior officials of the European Commission (EC) including Vice President Frans Timmermans, the 17 MEPs said that the regulation in its current form, has the potential to alienate stakeholders in producer countries with whom cooperation is critical if the EU wishes to halt deforestation. The letter noted: “… the proposal in its current form, will best clean EU supply chains. But with so many remaining consumer markets that do not impose similar standards, the risk for leakage and continued deforestation is large.”
Such a situation is needless, if through the regulation the EU rather “…uses its trade leverage to support the development, reform and implementation of improved national polices and laws in producer countries,” the letter stated, adding that “This way, the EU can influence the whole market, not simply supply chains to the EU.”
The letter suggested that for this to be effective, partnerships that will be evolved eventually, must be linked to the regulations, such as country risk rating to ensure that progress towards improved forest and land use are recognised and incentivised.
It concluded that, in its current form, the regulation is putting at risk EU’s global reputation in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. The letter therefore appealed to the outfit of the DG ENVI to amend the regulations accordingly. This should be an amendment that will send the right signals especially on the eve of the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) and the 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 26).
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang