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Brussels, 19 November 2009

Ghana to sign first voluntary partnership agreement with EU on legal timber exports

The government of G hana will tomorrow sign an historic agreement with the EU aimed at ensuring that only legally harvested timber from the West African country is exported to the EU market. The Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement will be signed by Ghana's Head of Mission to the European Union H.E. Nana Bema Kumi, European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas and Sweden's Minister for Agriculture Eskil Erlandsson. The signing ceremony will take place in the European Council building in Brussels and marks the end of the ratification process of the agreement. Interested press is invited to attend the ceremony.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "I congratulate Ghana for its leadership in being the first country to sign a voluntary partnership agreement with EU on legal timber exports. This will help improve forest governance in Ghana and ensure that timber imports from Ghana are not linked to illegal logging. As producers and consumers of tropical timber, Ghana and the EU have a joint responsibility to eradicate illegal logging and related trade."

Karel De Gucht, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid stated, "This agreement is a major step forward by both Ghana and the EU to ensure that only legally harvested timber from Ghana enters the EU. This agreement is a real example of how our partnership can lead to good governance practices and reap benefits for both sides and set an example for all others to follow."

Historic signing of agreement with Ghana on legal timber exports

The government of Ghana will tomorrow sign a Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU on the export of legal timber products from Ghana to the European Union. The agreement, the first of its kind, provides a legal framework and monitoring system aimed at ensuring that all timber imports into the EU from Ghana have been acquired, harvested, transported and exported in accordance with the law in Ghana. The agreement establishes a national Legality Assurance System for all commercial wood and wood products. The same system will also cover timber and timber products sold to non-EU markets, as well as on the domestic market.

Ghana decided to enter into a Voluntary Partnership Agreement to demonstrate its commitment to good forest governance and as a means to maintain access to valued markets and open up new markets. The EU is Ghana’s most valuable market, accounting for 43% of the value of total exports and 33% of total volume. Ghana expects the agreement to help further its reforms of the forestry sector, ensure that the forest sector contributes to poverty alleviation and promote investment in the sector to ensure the future viability of its forest industry.

Illegal logging has a devastating impact on the world's forests and the people that live in them and rely on the resources they provide. The European Union's response to tackle illegal logging is set out in the  2003 Forest Law Enforcement Government and Trade Action Plan. The cornerstone of this policy is the Voluntary Partnership Agreement between the EU and wood exporting countries. This aims to improve governance and ensure that the wood imported into the EU has complied with the legal requirements of the partner country. Under these agreements exporting countries develop systems to verify the legality of their timber exports and the EU supports them to improve systems which verify legal compliance. A number of countries are currently negotiating such agreements with the EU.

Next steps

The first shipments of timber from Ghana licensed under the scheme set up by today's agreement are expected at the end of 2010. Customs officials in EU Member States will ensure that only timber shipments which meet the legality assurance requirements are imported to the EU. This will give EU operators confidence that all the timber imported from Ghana is of legal origin.

The agreement provides for independent third party audits of the entire Legality Assurance System to guarantee credibility and assurance of effective verification and licensing under the agreement. Independent audits will strengthen transparency and will be made public. Ghana and the EU see transparency and information disclosure as vital to ensure accountability, increase awareness and establish credibility of the systems established under the agreement. Ghana and the EU will produce annual public reports reviewing the effectiveness of actions taken under the agreement and their impacts.

Successful implementation of the agreement will require political commitment and investment in a number of areas, as well as the strengthening of regulatory systems. In addition to domestic financing, funding to assist Ghana in the implementation of the agreement is provided through a multi-donor programme supported by the European Commission, France, the Netherlands, the UK and the World Bank.

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Practical arrangements: the signing ceremony will take place in the Council Building, in room 50.4 on the 20th November 2009, at 9am.

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