EU FLEGT initiative and sustainability

The EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) and FLEGT Licensing initiatives are best known for their focus on timber legality assurance and verification. Now, however, the European FLEGT Facility has highlighted the sustainability aspects of the wider EU FLEGT programme.

In the Facility’s article, which features in the FLEGT Independent Market Monitor’s just launched newsletter (, it stresses that FLEGT licences are not a claim to sustainability. But the piece, headlined ‘Beyond Legality’ says that  licensing of  timber and wood products exports to the EU, which Indonesia was the first FLEGT VPA signatory to start doing a year ago, is underpinned by policy reforms and sectoral improvements which help ensure forests support economic growth and poverty reduction and contribute towards sustainability.

“The process [behind licensing] has positive impacts on democracy, justice, jobs, welfare, security, climate change and biodiversity,” states the article.

Under the EU FLEGT initiative, countries sign a VPA, undertaking to establish a comprehensive legality assurance framework from forest to export despatch. Once implemented to the satisfaction of EU and signatory country government, the latter’s authorities can then issue exports to the EU with FLEGT licences. This grants them exemption from further due diligence under the EU Timber Regulation. To date all FLEGT VPA engaged supplier countries are tropical.

The FLEGT Facility says FLEGT licences “attest to compliance with laws related not only to forest management, biodiversity conservation and harvesting, but also to processing, transport and trade, covering aspects such as workers’ rights, fee payment and impacts of forestry operations on local communities or indigenous peoples”.

Licensing, it maintains, also “supports all three pillars of sustainability”; that forests are managed in line with legal requirements, including those on forest management and biodiversity conservation; where tenure rights and use-rights may be affected by harvesting, the initiative verifies respect for those rights; and in guaranteeing stakeholder participation in defining legal requirements for sustainable forest management it ensures these are comprehensive.

Multi-stakeholder processes established under a FLEGT VPA, says the FLEGT Facility, also address legal and policy reform needed to overcome governance challenges that are a barrier to countrywide sustainability. “In so doing, they create the foundations from for addressing drivers of deforestation and promoting sustainable forest management,” the article states, adding that the process also engages civil society organisations in monitoring their countries’ FLEGT programme.

Besides the latter, FLEGT licensing also entails official auditing of the supply chain, and monitoring by EU and supplier country authorities, bringing “unprecedented scrutiny [to bear] on the forest industry”.

“The EU and FLEGT licensing partner country commit in their VPA to monitor social, economic and environmental impacts of the agreement and to mitigate adverse effects on groups [such as] indigenous people and local communities,” states the FLEGT Facility.

In an interview with the European Timber Trade Federation Newsletter (, European Commission Director General for the Environment Daniel Calleja Crespo has also stressed the importance of communicating that FLEGT licensing is about more than verifying timber legality and granting a green lane through the EU Timber Regulation. Read the full article here.

IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, has also produced a study on the EU FLEGT initiative as a basis for certified sustainable forest management: