The Report

Opening plenary and policy discussion

Monday 16 March, from 14:30 to 16:45



  • FLEGT Week opened with a policy discussion at which stakeholders from governments, private sector and civil society examined the past, present and future of FLEGT
  • The debate focused on the pace of progress, continued challenges, evidence of impacts and on how to ensure the enduring relevance of FLEGT in a rapidly changing world.
  • There was broad support for FLEGT and an appetite for it to evolve to address challenges in implementation and match the changes that have taken place since the Action Plan was created.


Is FLEGT worth the effort? This question was the focus of the policy discussion that opened this year's FLEGT Week. It drew from the participants some important insights about the pace of progress, challenges affecting implementation, evidence of impacts and on how to ensure the enduring relevance of FLEGT in a rapidly changing world. These changes include evolving global timber markets, increased importance of large scale conversion of forests for agriculture and climate change.

Introducing the event, Bernard Crabbé reminded the nearly 300 stakeholders present that 2015 is an important year, with an evaluation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan and a review of the EU Timber Regulation underway. He said the session was an opportunity to reflect on 12 years of implementation of the FLEGT Action Plan and to provide elements to reflect on future action the EU might take.

A view from Brussels

In his speech, Karl Falkenberg highlighted FLEGT as an impressive example of cooperation between the EU and partner countries, resulting in some good examples of governance reforms, broad consensus building and stakeholder participation. He also hailed the linking of environment and development policy under FLEGT as one of the more successful cases of policy coherence and cooperation among the EU and its Member States and between different European Commission services.

He acknowledged however that implementation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan has been progressing more slowly than originally anticipated, as shown by the fact that no FLEGT licensed timber was available on the EU market. On the demand side, he said that implementation of the EU Timber Regulation had been at least as challenging as the complex task of negotiating the regulation. He said that while initially some EU Member States did not move forward swiftly on implementation, he noted positive signals too. "We are beginning to see that this system is set up in member states more comprehensively, and the first problematic shipments have been found. A number of exporting countries have been able to take corrective action."

"Most traders have better understood the philosophy and legal details in both the EU FLEGT Action Plan and the EU Timber Regulation. Therefore I hope we will see more positive outcomes, more revenue and more benefits in producer countries while, at the same time, forests are not cut down."

The big picture

"EU leadership has been game-changing in many ways," said keynote speaker Penny Davies in her overview of global forest policy in a changing climate. 

She noted that the FLEGT Action Plan had influenced initiatives in the United States, Australia and Japan, and had provided lessons that helped Brazil control the chaos of illegal logging in the Amazon. As well as rippling across geographies, she said FLEGT's influence has spread to other supply chains, such as conflict minerals and palm oil.

Davies said the benefits of FLEGT included: Regulatory simplification, less illegal logging and trade, less lost revenue and taxes, some high profile arrests and greater voice for individuals and communities.

Later speakers added to this list, legal and governance reforms, reduced corruption and ways for stakeholders to raise grievances.

"FLEGT licensing is not the only or the most important output to emerge," said Davies. She noted however that population growth and rising demand for food will increase competition for land and put more pressure on forests. She pointed to increasing inequality in forest regions, where local communities lack rights and face significant injustices – not least, the increasing numbers of murders of environmental defenders.

"The issue of illegal logging is not going away," said Davies. "We are at a defining moment. Forests and the way they are governed are central to the road we take." What role then for FLEGT in the evolving global forest agenda? James Astill invited a panel of stakeholders to answer this question. 


Limits to legality?

For the private sector panellists, there was strong support for initiatives aimed at tackling illegal logging and promoting trade in legal and sustainable timber. A main point of discussion was the merit of FLEGT's focus on legality as compared to sustainability schemes (FSC, PEFC) which already play an important role on the market. 

For some companies, legality is not the only consideration among minimum standards for supply chains and they therefore have policies favouring certified timber. Yannik Jadot, however, highlighted that the larger transformational change of a VPA in terms of legal and governance reforms cannot be compared to the certification of a specific forest area.

Hans-Joachim Danzer said he welcomed initiatives that level the playing field by reducing the competitive advantage that traders of illegal timber enjoy. However, he was sceptical about the feasibility of VPAs, with their country-level approach to assuring legality. "Absence of illegality does not help sell timber," said Danzer. "FLEGT's focus on legality is too low a barrier." What's needed instead, he said, is a greater focus on sustainability and conversion timber.

In response, an audience member made the point that legality shouldn't be optional and should have a business cost. Danzer clarified that there is a growing consensus among the private sector to operate legally but that not every company will spend extra to get certification. 

Has FLEGT taken too long?

Astill asked whether VPAs should have compromised on the multistakeholder country-specific process in order to bring faster results.

Harrison Karnwea disagreed. "Multistakeholder negotiation is better," he said. "It has changed the role of governance in Africa. Everyone is involved in decision making. If the elite make decisions, many people don't get the benefits they deserve from natural resources."

"I'm not at all surprised it has taken long," said Sue Unsworth. She pointed out the enormous challenge of improving forest government in an environment where there are weak institutions and no effective rule of law. "If it had been quick," said Unsworth, this would indicate it had been imposed from outside.

Unsworth explained that effective change happens not because someone calls for the rule of law or greater capacity. Instead it happens when, as with VPAs, stakeholder groups negotiate and contest issues then recognise common interests. "FLEGT is one of the smartest governance programmes," she said. "But the process is messy, unpredictable and it takes longer than thought."

What next for FLEGT?

Lisa Elges highlighted the important achievements of the FLEGT Action Plan and called for more attention to the dimension of law enforcement, better information sharing across countries and greater transparency around penalties. She also urged greater coherence and coordination between FLEGT and international conventions on corruption and transnational organised crime.

Katarina Maaskant said it was important for the EU and partner countries to "drive a number of strong VPAs all the way home, and get to a tipping point. Use any synergy effect you can. Use FSC."

Roberto Ridolfi wanted to see greater private sector involvement, efforts to market legality and a strengthened global coalition of actors committed to eliminating trade in illegal timber.

So, is FLEGT worth the effort?

To end the debate Astill asked a final question: "Will the effect of FLEGT-licensed timber arriving in the EU be transformational, useful or marginal?" None of the panellists said the effect would be marginal or only useful. But while some said "transformational" without hesitation, others qualified this with the word "potentially".

Danzer, for instance, said FLEGT-licensed timber has a chance of being transformational if it can deal with forest conversion. Indeed, as one audience member noted, most illegal logging currently comes from conversion of forests to agriculture. What drives this conversion most is the value of agricultural commodities – not timber. FLEGT, he said, therefore needs to stay relevant.

For Ridolfi though, FLEGT remains an "enormous achievement" that justifies the 500 million euros spent over 12 years in 30 countries. It is very little money compared to many other development initiatives over such a timescale and geographic area, he said. "It is human capital that is driving results."

The final word went to Yannick Jadot who noted the power of EU consumer choices to bring positive results. "It is not just a question of size of market but of quality," he said. "The EU is a quality market."

He said the European Parliament strongly supports VPAs as a major tool for addressing the underlying drivers of deforestation, by improving forest governance and clarifying legal frameworks. He emphasised that this is a long term process and is not just about FLEGT-licensed timber. 



The panel of speakers broadly support FLEGT but have questions about its implementation challenges and relatively slow pace of progress, and ability to adapt to changing patterns of timber trade and drivers of deforestation. While FLEGT-licensed timber has yet to arrive in the EU, other outputs from FLEGT VPAs include governance reforms and increased multistakeholder participation in decision-making. Illegal logging is not going away soon, and forests will have an increasing role to play in the global agenda, not least because of their potential roles in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The slideshow

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Moderator James Astill, The Economist

Opening remarks Karl Falkenberg, Director-General of the Directorate-General Environment, European Commission

Master of ceremonies Bernard Crabbé, Head – Forest Sector, Directorate-General Development Cooperation, European Commission

Keynote speaker Penny Davies, Program Officer, Ford Foundation


  • Roberto Ridolfi, Director for Sustainable Development and Growth, Directorate-General Development Cooperation, European Commission
  • Yannick Jadot, Member of the European Parliament
  • Sue Unsworth, Principal, The Policy Practice
  • Harrison Karnwea, Director, Forest Development Authority, Liberia
  • Lisa Ann Elges, Leader of the Climate Finance Integrity Program, Transparency International
  • Katarina Maaskant, Head of Public Affairs, IKEA
  • Hans-Joachim Danzer, Director, Danzer Group

Reporter Mike Shanahan