Cameroon, EU Ink Timber Trade Deal

14 May 2010

After 31 months of negotiations, Cameroon and the EU have signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) aimed at ensuring only legally harvested timber from the West African country enters the domestic or EU marketplace. Once implemented, the VPA will apply to all wood products harvested or produced in Cameroon, one of Africa's largest exporters of tropical hardwood.

Both government and civil society observers say that if implemented properly, the deal could bring an end to illegal logging in the heavily forested country. Cameroon has struggled with illegal and unsustainable logging for many years. From 1990-2005, 13.4 percent (3.3 million hectares) of the country's forest cover was lost.

Non-governmental organisations following the progress of the deal have praised the process of the negotiations for being "transparent" and "inclusive". Observers say the bilateral process sets an excellent example for future negotiations, but caution that transferring the good intentions on paper into practice will not be easy.

"The negotiation process in Cameroon has shown how well the Commission and country governments can work together," said Iola Leal Riesco of the Brussels-based green group FERN. "We must remember however that forests benefit from good implementation of good policies, not good policies alone."

The implementation date for the deal is set for 2012. At that time the VPA will require all wood-products exported from Cameroon to the EU to have a license proving they were legally obtained and harvested in a way that retains the health of the nation's forests and gives benefits back to forest communities.

Stefano Manservisi, Director General for Development of the European Commission, says it's a win-win trade deal.

"As producers and consumers of tropical timber, Cameroon and the EU have a joint responsibility to eradicate illegal logging and related trade," Manservisi said in a press release. "This is good for Cameroon and good for European consumers, who remain as concerned as ever about climate change, which has forest degradation and illegal logging as one of its causes,"

Civil society groups following the negotiations said the open process has been exceptional. The government of Cameroon has committed to making information publicly available, continuing independent monitoring of the forestry sector, carrying out legal framework reforms applicable to the forestry sector, and including civil society in the implementation process.

"One of the strengths of this agreement lies in the fact that it clearly identifies the information that must be publicly disclosed," said Symphorien Azantsa, Coordinator of the Cameroon-based EC Forest Platform, an organisation that is closely monitoring the Agreement.

Cameroon exported nearly US$500 million worth of wood and wood products in 2006. Approximately 80 percent of the country's processed wood is exported to the EU, while 60 percent of its raw logs are shipped to China.

This is the third VPA to be signed in Africa in as many years. Ghana signed an agreement in 2008 and the Republic of Congo - also known as Congo-Brazzaville - clinched a deal in 2009 (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 15 May 2009, and 19 September 2008).

VPAs lie at the core of the European Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, the EU's response to a call for action at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. Beyond VPAs, Brussels promised to require EU member states to purchase sustainable forest products, and to introduce a legislative measure discouraging the importation of wood from unknown - and thus, potentially illegal - sources.

There is currently no EU law preventing illegally harvested wood from entering the European market.

ICTSD Reporting; "Cameroon agrees to cut illegal wood out of its supply chain," MONGBAY, 10 May 2010; "Cameroon signs timber licence agreement with EU," TIMBER TRADES JOURNAL, 10 May 2010.

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