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The EU and Republic of Congo announce system to eradicate illegal logging

The Republic of Congo and the EU have announced a new system to ensure that by 2011 no illegal timber will reach European Union member nations from the Republic of Congo. Under the system all wood products will be required to carry a license showing that the timber was obtained legally.

Approximately half of the Republic of Congo’s $330 million in timber products is imported by EU nations. However the Republic of Congo’s forestry industry has been rife with illegal logging making it increasingly difficult under the existing system to determine the legality of the logged wood.

Timber in different stages of the export process in the Republic of Congo. Photo by Mr. Moussoki.

“With a total of 4,674,320 acres of certified forests as of March 2009, Congo has reached the highest echelon of tropical wood producing countries and is becoming a laboratory for sustainable forest management,” said Henri Djombo, Congo’s Minister of Forest Economy. “The conclusion of this agreement will guarantee our country new opportunities in timber markets while participating in reinforcing governance in that sector and illustrating Congo’s political commitment to work in that direction.”

The pact agreed upon by the EU and the Republic of Congo, known as the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), originated at the European Commission’s 2003 Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). FLEGT was created to stop the importation of illegal timber to the EU. The VPA with the Republic of Congo is the second one to be established; in September 2008 a similar agreement was announced between the EU and Ghana. Negotiations for future agreements are currently being conducted with Cameroon, Liberia, Malaysia, Indonesia Gabon, Vietnam, and the Central African Republic.

Timber in different stages of the export process in the Republic of Congo. Photo by Mr. Moussoki.

While the VPA only applies to exports from the Republic of Congo to the EU, the government from the Republic of Congo have indicated that they will apply elements of the VPA to all timber exported from the country. This could greatly impact current exports from southern Republic of Congo to China, exports which have been accused of being largely illegal and unsustainable.

The negations regarding the VPA took into account forest community wishes and input from civil society groups, such as the NGO Congolese Observer for the Rights of Man (OCDH).

“There is much work that remains to be done, but we believe a framework has been established with the potential to give local communities in Republic of Congo unprecedented influence over to what happens to the forests that are so critical to their survival and their culture,” said Roch Euloge N’Zobo, Programme Director for OCDH. “A mechanism has been put in place that will bring civil society, government, local groups, independent monitors and European regulators to the table, and this gives us hope that local forest peoples will be heard, their rights respected, and their concerns addressed.”

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