1 December: VPA entered into force
19 November: VPA signed
Illegal logging, enabled by poor forest governance and driven in part by trade, is a major contributor to deforestation. However, recent research shows that illegal logging has decreased since the VPA entered into force, and that the VPA has contributed to a reduction in deforestation, and helped make the government more accountable, and improved transparency in the forest sector.
Small-scale, illegal chainsaw loggers now fell more trees in Ghana than the formal timber sector. While In 2018, the EU only accounted for 161% of Ghana’s timber exports in 20198, the same research shows that the VPA has helped to improve working conditions in the forestry sector and increased SMEs’ access to export markets for SMEs and working conditions in the forestry sector.
A Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is a legally binding trade agreement between the EU and a timber-exporting country outside the EU. A VPA aims to ensure that all timber and timber products destined for the EU market from a partner country comply with the laws of that country.
In addition to promoting trade in legal timber, VPAs address the causes of illegality by improving forest governance and law enforcement. A major strength of VPAs is that they look beyond trade to consider development and environmental issues, as well as effects on local populations.
Stakeholders in government, the private sector and civil society develop VPAs through a participatory process. A VPA is, therefore, a vehicle for addressing the needs of different stakeholders and for including many people who have never before had a voice in forest sector policy processes.
VPAs are a key component of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan of 2003. Ghana is one of seven tropical countries that have ratified and are implementing VPAs.
A VPA partner country that has implemented a timber legality assurance system and other VPA commitments can issue verified legal timber products with FLEGT licences. The advantage is that FLEGT-licensed products automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits EU operators from placing illegally harvested timber and timber products on the EU market.
The EUTR entered into force in 2013. It requires EU operators to perform due diligence checks to ensure the timber products they place on the EU market are legal. FLEGT-licensed timber meets the due diligence requirements under the EUTR.
A VPA partner country can only issue FLEGT licences through a timber legality assurance system that the EU and the partner country have agreed on, developed and valuated. Before a country can begin FLEGT licensing, the EU and the partner country must conduct a joint evaluation to confirm whether the country’s timber legality assurance system works as described in the VPA. Confirmation by the two parties means that the system is robust and will issue FLEGT licences only to legal timber products.
While FLEGT licensing is an important goal, it is not the end point of a VPA process. Governance reforms, legislative and policy reforms, impact monitoring, improvements to the timber legality assurance system and other activities are ongoing processes.
Through progress on VPAs, the implementation of the EUTR and dialogues with other important timber markets, including China, the EU and the VPA partner countries are contributing to a growing global movement to address trade in illegal timber and timber products. Australia, the United States and Japan also seek to restrict the placing of illegal timber on their markets. The process to achieve FLEGT licences may therefore help VPA partner countries such as Ghana meet the legality requirements of markets beyond the EU.
The Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) is a legally binding trade agreement. It aims to ensure that Ghana produces and exports only legal timber and timber products to the EU by improving forest governance and law enforcement.
Although VPAs are primarily concerned with international trade, one of the main reasons Ghana chose to pursue a VPA was to address illegal logging that infiltrates the domestic market. There was strong consensus from stakeholders in Ghana that it would be critical to include the production of timber for the domestic market in the VPA. This move encouraged other countries to include domestic markets in their VPAs.
VPA negotiations between Ghana and the EU began in 2007. Ghana’s negotiating team was led by the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, with representation from other ministries, civil society and the private sector. As a result, significant national ownership and stakeholder engagement were achieved and the VPA reflects a broad consensus among stakeholders.
Ghana was the first country to conclude negotiations and ratify a VPA with the EU. Ghana and the EU ratified the VPA in 2009 and are now implementing the commitments laid out in the VPA text and annexes.
Ghana commits to developing a timber legality assurance system so it can issue verified legal timber products with FLEGT licences. Once this system is operational, Ghana commits to export to the EU only FLEGT-licensed timber products.
Before FLEGT licensing can begin, however, the EU and Ghana must confirm that Ghana’s timber legality assurance system is working and meets the requirements set out in the VPA, through a joint evaluation of the system. The joint evaluation must satisfy the Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism that the system is ready to issue FLEGT licences, meaning the system is able to function to ensure it licenses only legal products.
The timber legality assurance system, governance reforms and other commitments are described in the VPA’s main text and annexes. In addition to the agreed commitments, the VPA process itself has fostered multistakeholder participation, transparency, legislative clarity, legal reforms and other aspects of good governance (see How the Ghana-EU VPA has improved forest governance).
Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism, 2013.
A Ghana-EU body called the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM) oversees implementation of the VPA. The forest minister leads Ghana’s delegation to the JMRM and the EU’s representation is led by the EU Ambassador to Ghana. Records of discussions are made public.
Ghana has also established a Multistakeholder Implementation Committee. This Committee is chaired by a representative of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and members include representatives of several Government ministries and agencies that have responsibilities for aspects of the VPA. Other members of the Committee include a parliamentarian, a representative of traditional authority and representatives of civil society and the private sector. The VPA Secretariat in Ghana’s Forestry Commission coordinates implementation activities.
Emerging issues or changes to trends in the forest sector since VPA negotiations began have affected VPA implementation. For instance, Ghana did not import timber when VPA negotiations started but does now, with consequences for supply chain control and other aspects of the VPA.
The VPA includes a framework for overseeing, monitoring and evaluating implementation of the VPA and its economic, social and environmental impacts
Ghana has made considerable efforts to address illegal logging, a problem the country has struggled with for decades. These efforts include a ban on log exports and investment in a wood tracking system. Ghana is also the first African country to be developing a public procurement policy to ensure Government funded projects use only legal timber.
Under the VPA, Ghana committed to develop a rigorous yet practical system for assuring the legality of its timber, through an inclusive multistakeholder process. The timber legality assurance system described in the Ghana-EU VPA has five components:
Ghana has developed a wood tracking system which has been rolled out nationwide. It has also set up a Timber Validation Department (TVD) to act as an ‘internal auditor’ within the Forestry Commission and a multistakeholder Timber Validation Committee to oversee the work of the TVD.
The Forestry Commission is also finalising verification protocols and the systems for issuing FLEGT licences. Following the independent technical joint evaluation of the legality assurance system, aA Ghana-EU joint action plan has been drafted which identifiesd the steps necessary to finalise fully implement the timber legality assurance system ahead of FLEGT licensing.
The VPA has already had an impact, both as a result of what Ghana and the EU have committed to, and as a result of the multistakeholder process of negotiating and implementing the Agreement. These gains include stronger monitoring, enforcement and compliance.
During the VPA negotiations, representatives of civil society and the private sector participated alongside Government in the national VPA steering committee and its five technical working groups. These stakeholder groups are also represented in the national multistakeholder implementation committee and the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism.
The VPA process has strengthened the capacity of Government, private sector and civil society stakeholders to work together to address illegality in Ghana’ forest sector. Capacity building activities have included training and/or recruitment to enable:
Article 20 of the VPA, on reporting and public disclosure, states that the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM) shall record Ghana’s efforts towards transparency. The article refers to transparency around harvest rights, areas designated for harvesting, harvesting schedules, timber rights’ fees and harvest related payments, and information on social responsibility agreements and crop damage compensation awards. Civil society organisations have also presented to the JMRM a list of information they would like to be in the public domain to assist them with forest monitoring. In addition, the Timber Resources Management and Legality Licensing Regulations 2017 include provisions for public access to information on forest resource management.
The VPA process has made legality in the forest sector much clearer in Ghana. The VPA legality definition makes clear what operators in the timber sector must do to comply with the law and what indicators and verification measures auditors must use to assess legality. The Timber Resources Management and Legality Licensing Regulations adopted in November 2017 outline a number of procedures related to the access to timber resources, including those on large scale and small scale timber rights, timber contracts, timber stumpage fees, the registration and use of chainsaws, and offences and penalties. Clear legislation makes it easier for the Forestry Commission and other regulatory bodies to enforce the law and for the justice system to prosecute illegal loggers.
Ghana’s domestic market for timber is bigger than its export market. Before the VPA process began, stakeholders from Government, civil society and the private sector shared the view that a VPA must help Ghana to address illegality in the domestic market. As a result of the VPA, the Government and a dialogue platform convened by a non-governmental organisation have developed and agreed policies to address illegal logging in the domestic market. Initiatives such as the EU Chain Saw Project and others have tried to provide both policy and technical solutions to the problem of the domestic market. Ghana is developing a public procurement policy to ensure that state-funded projects do not use illegally harvested wood.
The VPA’s legality definition included various community rights, such as:
The Timber Resources Management and Legality Licensing Regulations 2017 require all companies acquiring any commercial logging permits to negotiate social responsibility agreements with adjacent communities. They also explicitly restate the need for civil society to be represented on the Timber Validation Committee, as stipulated in the VPA, and include provisions for public access to information on forest resource management. The VPA has strengthened community rights, as timber and timber products must comply with all aspects of the VPA legality definition to receive a FLEGT licence.
Community Meeting in Saamang, Ghana.
When a Ghana-EU joint evaluation concludes that the timber legality assurance system is fully operational as described in the VPA, the Joint Monitoring And Review Mechanism can propose recommend the date from which the FLEGT Licensing Scheme should start full operationsthat Ghana begins to issue FLEGT licences. Once a decision is made to commence FLEGT licensing, the parties will follow their respective internal processes, including legislative measures, such as amending the FLEGT Regulation on the EU side.
Once FLEGT licensing begins, all Ghanaian timber-based products listed in Annex I of the VPA and exported to the EU must be accompanied by a valid FLEGT licence. EU customs officials will deny entry to any products covered by the VPA that arrive without a valid FLEGT licence.
The VPA for Ghana distinguishes reforms that must precede FLEGT licensing from reforms that can come later, but within a specific time frame. Later reforms relate to governance issues including benefit sharing. The Government of Ghana has committed to resolve the issue of undefined tree tenure rights as driver of illegal logging and intends to begin a tenure reform process.
Ghana also committed to reform forest laws in light of the policy reforms and to consolidate the laws to remove inconsistencies. In addition to these planned reforms, civil society organisations call for other reforms to strengthen forest governance. The approval and implementation of Ghana’s public procurement policy for timber will go some way towards addressing illegality on the domestic market.
The EU and Ghana made a joint commitment to monitor the social, economic and environmental impacts of the VPA. Monitoring examines whether a VPA is having the desired outcomes. It can also identify unintended negative impacts for Ghana and the EU to address and mitigate. The Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism created a multistakeholder ‘joint team’, which is in the final stages of developing an Impact Monitoring Framework and associated baselines.
The European Commission has appointed the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) as an independent market monitor for all VPA countries. The ITTO report ‘FLEGT VPA Partners in EU Timber Trade 2014 to 2016’ indicates that Ghana is the only VPA-implementing country that has significantly extended planted forest area between 2010 and 2015, at a rate of 13 000 hectares per year. It also finds that between 2010 and 2015, forest area increased by 2% in Ghana. The report includes an annex on a scoping study to assess the current market situation for Ghanaian timber products to provide a baseline for assessment of future trade impacts of FLEGT licensing.
Is the Ghana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) available to read online?
Yes. You can read the VPA and its annexes in the Official documents section.
How does the VPA benefit Ghana?
The VPA has improved transparency, human and technical capacity, forest management, accountability, bureaucratic efficiencies, institutional collaboration, stakeholder participation and other aspects of good forest governance. When fully implemented, the VPA should bring further economic, social and environmental benefits to Ghana.
What is the status of the VPA and future prospects?
The VPA has already transformed Ghana’s forestry industry.
How does the VPA address the domestic market, which is a major driver of illegality in Ghana’s forest sector?
Although VPAs are primarily concerned with international trade, one of the main reasons Ghana chose to pursue a VPA was to address illegal logging that serves domestic, often informal, markets. There was strong consensus from stakeholders in Ghana that it would be critical to include the production of timber for the domestic market in a VPA. This move encouraged other countries to include domestic markets in their VPAs.
How can the VPA address corruption?
The VPA has led to improved transparency, accountability, institutional clarity and the capacity of civil society to hold Government and the private sector to account. Ghana has created an internal auditing system to ensure Government forestry agents are doing their jobs. This has led to some increased efficiencies, clarity on the ground and reduced opportunities for corrupt practices.
How does the VPA protect community rights?
The VPA process showed that social responsibility agreements, important documents to reinforce community rights, were not well enforced. Therefore, compliance was weak. As a result, representatives of Government and civil society developed a checklist to improve compliance and enforcement. This checklist is now part of the Government’s control procedures.
The Timber Resources Management and Legality Licensing Regulations 2017 require all companies acquiring any commercial logging permits to negotiate social responsibility agreements with adjacent communities. As part of these agreements, it is agreed that no timber harvesting or forest operations can take place on days designated as ‘taboo days’ (when, traditionally, entry into the forest is forbidden). The regulations also explicitly restate the need for civil society to be represented on the Timber Validation Committee, as stipulated in the VPA, and include provisions for public access to information on forest resource management.
In the forest management plan, areas of particular cultural significance, such as ‘sacred groves’ are clearly delineated and no harvesting is allowed in these areas.
How was the Ghana-EU VPA negotiated?
Ghana and the EU negotiated the VPA through a process that involved input from stakeholders representing the Ghanaian Government, private sector and civil society. In addition to participating in consultations about the VPA, each of these stakeholder groups was represented in the team that negotiated with the EU on Ghana’s behalf.
Which Ghanaian stakeholders and institutions have played roles in the VPA’s negotiation and implementation?
The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources leads on behalf of the Government of Ghana in the VPA process, with the Forestry Commission being the main implementing agency.
What roles have different stakeholders played in the VPA process?
How do local NGOs engage with the VPA process?
Forest Watch Ghana is a coalition of over 30 Ghanaian NGOs working in the forest and environment sector. It had a representative on the steering committee that was set up to prepare for negotiations. That same representative attended the negotiations as an observer.
Why has the VPA process taken so long?
Meaningful change takes time. The VPA process took the time necessary to build a consensus among national stakeholders and to design, revise and implement a timber legality assurance system that is robust and credible. It would be wrong to compare the pace of VPA implementation between countries as the contexts and development needs differ.
What is the Multi-Stakeholder Implementation Committee?
Ghana has established a Multi-Stakeholder Implementation Committee chaired by the Technical Director for Forestry from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. The Committee has primary responsibility for overseeing the domestic implementation of the VPA and for preparing Ghana’s position in advance of meetings of the Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism. Other stakeholders represented on this Committee include the Forestry Commission, Customs, the private sector and civil society.
What is the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism?
Under the VPA, Ghana and the EU are committed to meeting at least once a year to review progress with VPA implementation. The joint body established for this purpose is called the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM). It is co-chaired by the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources and the EU Ambassador. Summaries of these meetings are published and available on the website of the Ghana Forestry Commission.
In the periods between meetings of the JMRM, the FLEGT focal point from the Government of Ghana and the FLEGT focal point from the EU Delegation meet at the technical level to discuss progress towards agreed milestones and any challenges.
How do the EU and Ghana make information about their formal meetings available?
Ghana and the EU publish summaries of meetings, called Aide Memoires, of the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM). The JMRM also publishes an annual report. All of these publications appear on the websites of the Ghana Forestry Commission, the EU Delegation in Accra and the EU FLEGT Facility.
What is the timber legality assurance system, or GhLAS?
Ghana’s timber legality assurance system, or GhLAS, is designed to verify the legality of timber from the forest or the point of import through the entire supply chain to the point of final sale or export.
How does the timber legality assurance system work?
The timber legality assurance system has two main aspects. The first aspect involves checks to ensure that all aspects of timber production comply with the laws that make up the VPA’s legality definition. These are the laws stakeholders have agreed are the most important to control. They include aspects of law relating to company registration, labour, forest management plans and harvesting volumes, among others.
What are the consequences of legality verification?
It is expected that the requirement to demonstrate compliance with the definition of legality that forms the basis of Ghana’s timber licensing system, will ensure that:
Who are the FLEGT licensing authorities?
The Timber Industry Development Division of Ghana’s Forestry Commission is the FLEGT licensing authority.
What if problems emerge? Who has oversight of the VPA?
A Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM) oversees the implementation of the VPA and will respond to any concerns about problems in implementation as they arise. Implementation therefore improves as it proceeds. The JMRM includes representatives of stakeholders from Government, civil society and the private sector. The sector minister leads Ghana’s delegation to the JMRM and the EU’s representation is led by the EU Ambassador to Ghana. Records of discussions are made public.
Ghana has also established a national Multi-Stakeholder Implementation Committee. This Committee is chaired by a representative of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and members include representatives of several Government ministries and agencies that have responsibilities for aspects of the VPA. Other members of the Committee include a parliamentarian, a representative of traditional authority and representatives of civil society and the private sector. The VPA Secretariat in Ghana’s Forestry Commission coordinates implementation activities.
What is the independent monitor?
Do companies that hold voluntary certification (such as FSC or PEFC) also have to follow the GhLAS system?
Yes. Operators that hold voluntary certification will be subject to the same requirements as non-certified operators. All exporters will need a FLEGT licence to export to the EU timber-based products listed in Annex I of the VPA.
What happens when the legality assurance system fails to detect illegal timber?
When illegal timber is shown to have passed through Ghana’s timber legality assurance system undetected, this will provide opportunities to strengthen the system to avoid a reoccurrence of the breach.
When will FLEGT licensing start?
Ghana and the EU are undertaking a joint assessment of the legality assurance system that is outlined in the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on FLEGT between Ghana and the EU. The assessment is an independent review of all five aspects of Ghana’s legality assurance system. The joint assessment will inform Ghana and the EU whether or not there are any further crucial points for improvement. This information will support the two parties in their recommendation on the date from which the FLEGT Licensing Scheme should start full operations.
What broader impacts can be attributed to the VPA?
How will the impacts of the VPA be monitored?
The EU and Ghana made a joint commitment to monitor the social, economic and environmental effects of the Agreement.