The ballroom of the Monrovia City Hall was a scene of celebration on Friday, April 7, when the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) was signed between Liberia and the European Union (EU) through the Joint Implementation Committee (JIC).
Friday’s ceremony marked the end of the fifth meeting of the JIC, which oversees implementation of the First Law Enforcement Conference and Trade (FLEGT) and the VPA between Liberia and the EU.
The VPA is a legally binding trade agreement between the EU and a timber-exporting country outside the EU. It aims to ensure that all timber products destined for the EU market from a partner country such as Liberia, comply with the laws of that country.
Prior to affixing their respective signatures to the document, Ambassador Tiina Intelmann, head of the EU delegation and Sister Mary Laurene Browne, OSF, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), spoke about the progress towards implementation of the VPA.
The VPA, accordingly, aims at improving forest governance, address illegal logging and promote trade in verified legal timber products from Liberia to the EU.
In addition to promoting trade in legal timber, VPAs address the causes of illegality by improving forest governance and law enforcement. A major strength of VPAs is that they look beyond trade to consider development and environmental issues.
Liberia and the EU negotiated their VPA between 2009 and 2011. The negotiations involved representatives of Liberian civil society organizations, the private sector, and government ministries and agencies. As a result, significant national ownership and stakeholder engagements were achieved and the VPA reflects a broad consensus among stakeholders.
The EU ratified the VPA in 2012 and Liberia ratified it in 2013. They are now implementing the commitments they made in the agreement. Once Liberia has implemented a timber legality assurance system and other commitments outlined in the VPA, it will export to the EU only verified legal timber products accompanied by FLEGT licenses. FLEGT-licensed timber products from Liberia will be able to enter the EU market without undergoing the due diligence checks required by the EU Timber Regulation.
While FLEGT licensing is an important goal, according to FDA managing director, Darlingto Tuagben, the VPA has already had a positive impact by improving transparency, stakeholder participation, capacity and other aspects of good forest governance.
He said, a Liberia-EU JIC oversees implementation of the VPA through which records of discussions are made public.
The Liberian team at the ceremony included representatives of government, civil society and the private sector. At the national level, the FDA coordinates the VPA implementation.