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European Commission

Andris Piebalgs

European Commissioner for Development

Taking the lead in the fight against illegal logging

High Level Event on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) / Brussels

9 October 2012

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Esteemed Guests,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I start I'd like to thank FERN and MEPs Fiona Hall and Yannick Jadot for making this conference possible. I appreciate your constructive interest in the FLEGT Action Plan, and in the voluntary partnership agreements. I especially appreciate your support for us in Strasbourg last year, during the ratification process for the VPAs with Congo and Cameroon.

Let me start by making clear that Illegal logging has a devastating impact on some of the world's most valuable remaining forests and on the people who live in and from these forests. Billions of Euros are lost every year, the livelihoods of millions of poor people are affected, as are we all. Illegal logging contributes to the deforestation and forest decline that has knock-on effects on climate change and biodiversity. In fact, 1,3 Billion of the world's poorest depend on forests for their livelihood. At the same time, we lose 13 million hectares of forest each year. And even if forest loss is going down, it is still too big.

The EU is one of the biggest global markets for timber products and as such we are both part of the problem and the solution. This is why the EU has taken the lead in the global fight against illegal logging and especially illegal timber imports into Europe.

In 2003, the EU adopted a new approach, set out in the FLEGT Action Plan, which aims to blend action in Europe with actions in timber producing countries to fight against illegal logging, thus tackling both demand and supply. This foresees support to timber producing developing countries, development of a licensing system to check what is imported into Europe, support to the private sector to promote tailor-made business solutions, work on financing measures to encourage responsible investments and new domestic policies to promote legal and sustainably produced products in European governments purchasing practices.

Ten years on, we see very positive developments as well as the very real challenges of putting new systems and approaches into practice. We have started a new approach to development, framed in formal international treaties with partner countries, known as FLEGT voluntary partnership agreements (VPA) and reinforced through EU-wide legislation. To date six VPA have been concluded, seven are in negotiation and more countries are expressing interest.

Like most clever ideas, the VPA is actually a very simple one: a country sends its timber to the EU with evidence that reassures the consumer that it has been legally harvested. The negotiations have reminded us that reality is more complex: causes of illegality are complex, forest trade and governance touch on many policies and laws, interests in forest resources are multiple and conflicting. Only tailor-made, country by country solutions that match the expectations of national stakeholders are appropriate.

As trade agreements, the VPAs have afforded a powerful lever to bring stakeholders around the table and to identify and tackle difficult forest governance challenges. The process can bring improvements to legal frameworks, securing rights, better law enforcement, introducing transparency that will in turn facilitate monitoring by civil society and encourage greater accountability as well as ensuring the European market is supplied with legally harvested timber and derived products.

Through the VPA we have renewed our policy dialogue. Already the VPA has fostered positive processes, encouraging stakeholder engagement, securing law reform, putting in place systems to combat corruption, and also building the capacities of administrations, private operators and civil society in developing countries, which is so essential for sustainable development.

As Fred Pearce has put it in the report he has produced for FERN: "progress is being made by the VPAs in encouraging forest reform and improved social justice in forests. It suggests that, while progress has not been universal — and forest exploiters are adept at finding the weakest link in any form of governance — the VPAs are succeeding. They are unique initiatives in governance. By providing a key to unlock wider actors in civil society, they offer a template for better governance far beyond the forests".

That is why I am so enthusiastic about FLEGT – if used in the correct way they are a central piece of the puzzle to fight poverty by ensuring sustainable and inclusive growth.

Thus, the VPAs hold great promise to improve accountability and contribute to economic growth – but as always such results rest on their effective implementation. We enter this critical stage now. The first licences are expected in 2013.

The forthcoming entry into application of the EU Timber regulation in March 2013 will bring changes to businesses in Europe and beyond, encouraging operators to know their supply chains and to make sure that they are purchasing legally produced goods. This will reinforce the efforts of developing country governments and stakeholders who want to see their laws and rights respected. All these efforts contribute to our vision of a sustainable and sound forest stewardship where the sector contributes to economic growth and development, where illegal timber trade is stopped and global markets are no longer affected by this unfair trade.

So I think we all agree of the promise we see, but for lasting results our common work must continue. Together with Member States and the European Parliament the European Commission is committed to continue its support through the implementation of the FLEGT Action Plan. We need to do this in partnership – producing and consuming countries, with businesses in Europe and in developing countries and with civil society and NGOs who have been pushing us hard and who have proved to be indispensable partners here and in producing countries.

FERN has been one such partner. We greatly appreciate your commitment to giving people having a voice in decisions affecting their lives and their future development and look forward to further collaboration with you in the future. You have done so through a project called "A strong seat at the table" where you have helped people forest dependent people to gain and use their rights in connection with the VPA negotiations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The last ten years have shown that we can win the fight against illegal logging. With new policies and regulations in many countries, increased awareness and a continued commitment among stakeholders in both consumer and producer countries, I am hopeful that we will eradicate the problem of illegal logging within the next ten years. With climate change and the global threat to biodiversity looming ever larger, that hope must become reality. We cannot afford to wait any longer. We must build on the positive momentum we have created in order to reach this goal and achieve lasting results.

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