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Brussels, 21 October 2010

Fight against illegal timber exports: the European Union and the Democratic Republic of Congo launch negotiations

Today, European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs, José Bononge Endundo -Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism- of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation Charles Michel, on behalf of the EU Belgian Presidency, signed a declaration to launch the negotiations for a voluntary partnership agreement on the export of legal timber to the EU, named Forest Law Enforcement, Government and Trade agreement (FLEGT). This is the first step in the negotiation process, which is expected to be finalised by mid-2013. The objective of this agreement is to ensure that wood products from the DRC will carry a license showing that they contain timber and wood products from a legal origin.

European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs said: "The decision of the Democratic Republic of Congo to commit to the fight against illegal exploitation of forests is good news for the DRC and for the EU. It will help forestry sector of DRC to develop in a sustainable way and to create jobs. Europeans, on their side, will be reassured that all the wood products coming from are both legally produced and exported".

Benefits of a FLEGT agreement

The negotiations for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade agreement will focus on the development of a traceability and legality assurance system that will ensure European consumers that the timber they buy comes from legal sources, respecting environmental, social and fiscal laws. Measures that promote forest governance, stakeholder participation, transparency and government accountability will also be discussed during the process. These stronger control systems will enable the DRC to tackle illegal deforestation and degradation that contribute to climate change.

The Belgian Development Cooperation has supported the FLEGT-facilitation process in the DRC financially (August 2009 - December 2010). Following the formal request of Prime Minister Muzito of DRC to open FLEGT-negotiations, it has committed to support the negotiation process and related activities and is hitherto jointly developing a project that could contribute up to €3.5 million during the period January 2011- June 2013. Management of this support project is to be delegated to the European Commission.

Forestry and exports from DRC

The DRC contains about 60% of the forests of the Congo basin and is the second largest rainforest area in the world. This region is about 98 million hectares, which is 32 times the total surface of Belgium. About 40 million inhabitants live in and depend on forests and supporting industries.

The agreement will support the ongoing reforms including the adoption of a new forestry code and legislative framework, process of conversion of forest titles, recruitment of an independent observer of forest activities, improvement of the forest control strategy and reform of the ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism.

About 80% of timber and timber products originating in the DRC are exported to Europe, the main destinations being France (30%), Portugal (23%), Belgium (11%) and Italy (9%). Local markets are also important and trade huge volumes of timber, mainly from the informal sector. Exports from the DRC to Europe amount from 100.000 to 200.000 cubic meters per year- and they mainly consist of processed products.

Background on the FLEGT agreement

Illegal logging has a devastating impact on the world's forests and the people that live in them and rely on the resources and services they provide. It is believed that more than half of all logging activities in the most vulnerable forest regions may be conducted illegally. Worldwide, estimates suggest that illegal activities may account for a tenth of the total global timber trade, representing an annual loss to producer governments of least $15 billion a year in revenue and taxes.

One of the European Union's strategies for tackling illegal logging is set out in the 2003 Forest Law Enforcement Government and Trade Action Plan (or FLEGT). The cornerstone of this policy is the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between the EU and wood exporting countries. In addition, the EU has adopted in June 2010 new legislation that will oblige wood importers and traders to know the source of any wood or forest products that they are buying and to ensure that it is legally compliant. This EU "Illegal Timber Regulation” includes a prohibition on the sale of illegal timber in the EU. The regulation will enter into force as from the beginning of 2013.

The DRC is the 10th country to enter in VPA negotiations. VPAs have been signed with Ghana, Cameroon and Congo and are presently in negotiation with Malaysia, Indonesia, Liberia, Central African Republic, Gabon and Vietnam.

For more information about the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade initiative you can visit the website.

See also MEMO/10/511 on illegal logging.

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