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Regional Seminar Held to Share Lessons on FLEGT VPA

A regional seminar on “Sharing Regional Lessons on FLEGT VPA processes: Transitioning from Negotiations to Implementation” was held from 28-29 September 2016 at the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown, Guyana. This seminar was convened to share experiences and lessons learned around the processes of Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) with the European Union (EU) under the auspices of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. The FLEGT Action Plan was developed in response to the problem of illegal logging and trade in associated timber products. Approximately ninety (90) persons participated in the event, including Guyanese resource persons from Civil Society, the different scales of forest sector operators, the NGO Community including Indigenous organizations, Academia and Government Agencies; and international participants from Suriname, Honduras, Guatemala, Liberia, Ghana and the EU.

This regional FLEGT seminar allowed for the interactive exchange of experiences and lessons learnt from countries now in the implementation phase of their VPAs. The meeting was provided with an update on the implementation of the VPA in Indonesia, which highlighted its success in being the first country in the world to issue FLEGT licensed timber that will enter the European market this November.

Presentations under the theme “Timber Legality Assurance Systems (TLAS)”, highlighted linkages of existing forest certification schemes to the TLAS, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and demonstrated how this can benefit the FLEGT VPA process. Reflections from Ghana highlighted challenges and opportunities in implementing its own TLAS, throughout the long process of acquiring FLEGT licenses.

While presentations delivered under the theme “Lessons Learned from Civil Society in the Implementation of VPAs” emphasized effective stakeholder education, awareness and capacity building as key focal areas. Whilst it was appreciated that Guyana has done significant work in these areas, there were useful suggestions from working groups on how the effectiveness of these processes may be further improved. In deliberating on the role of Guyana’s indigenous people during the VPA implementation, representatives noted the extensive engagements done but reemphasized the need for the active engagement of indigenous groups in every stage of the deliberations while applying the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC). A special call was made by some participants to further integrate the rights of indigenous peoples into the negotiations of the FLEGT VPA between Guyana and the EU. The seminar participants recognized that there was a need for more discussion on this topic, and possibly channel non-VPA related issues to other relevant fora.

Major cross-cutting themes throughout the seminar were: the need to involve civil society and especially indigenous peoples, in the decision-making process relating to FLEGT licensing; the need for continued financial support in moving from the negotiation stage to the implementation phase and; the need for Guyana to highlight its forest sustainability capacity and be proactive in securing timber export markets in preparation for its eventual FLEGT licensing. There was a general consensus that gaps in capacity necessary for implementation exist and some stakeholders identified the VPA annex on support measures as one mechanism through which these needs could potentially be addressed.

At the conclusion of the seminar, the Chairperson of the GFC thanked everyone for their vibrant contributions. She expressed the hope that all would continue to give their full commitment to the conclusion of the VPA and indicated that whilst this process may not be the forum to resolve all issues, one output of this seminar must be a formalized public process where these issues are acknowledged and forwarded to the relevant body for further deliberation.

There was a broad consensus that this seminar provided a good platform to share experiences, as well as a transparent setting where participants could speak freely. It was recommended that there should be other such engagements on a regular basis.

Background for press

Guyana’s VPA process traced its commencement in 2012 with the formation of a National Technical Working Group followed by consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and the subsequent development of a road map. Four negotiations with the EU have since been held – in Guyana in 2012, 2015, and 2016 and in Brussels in 2013.

This seminar is the second such event to be held in Guyana, the first was in 2014. The event was organized by the National Technical Working Group and the FLEGT Facilitation Support Office in collaboration with other partners (APA, EFI, FAO, Iwokrama and IUCN).

Inspired by the illegal logging update and stakeholder consultation meetings hosted by The Royal Institute for International Affairs Chatham House in London, Palladium (which acquired the IDL group in 2013) launched a series of global experience sharing seminars and conference events in 2011. This series of events was designed to create an in-country space for discussion and the exchange of ideas, experiences and research around forest governance in the timber-producing countries of the Congo Basin and West Africa. The two-day regional conferences which were held in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Liberia, attracted participants from around the world.