Beginning from June this year, Ghana and the European Union (EU) will formalise a voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) to stem illegal logging, promote good governance in the country's forest management and ensure legal timber export from Ghana to the EU.
A document containing three separate briefs and a public awareness paper on the VPA made available to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) said it was estimated that about 70 per cent of the 3.3 billion metres of timber harvested annually
in Ghana was illegal.
It said the EU received the majority of Ghana's timber exports and was therefore concerned about the high rate of illegal timber from the country. The EU therefore, initiated the VPA negotiations as part of its Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Action Plan (FLEGTAP) launched in 2003
to nib illegal timber trade in the bud.
The Government of Ghana-EU VPA is expected to be initialled in June this year ahead of its signing and ratification later in the year. The public awareness paper, written by Ms Jennifer Karmona of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), communications consultants for the VPA negotiations in Ghana, said negotiations towards the
VPA which began in December 2005 were near completion. According to the paper, wide consultations with key stakeholders had been held under the auspices of IUCN and the local multi-stakeholder VPA Steering Committee, comprising representatives from government agencies, the timber industry and civil society.
Ms Karmona told the GNA that the various stakeholders would present their reports on specific aspects of the negotiations at a final stakeholders meeting slated for May 6, 2008. She said a ministerial briefing session to discuss the five key elements in the VPA - definition of legal timber, legality insurance, timber industry restructuring, domestic timber market and VPA impact studies - would then follow as the last lap of negotiations, adding that, studies on all the elements had been completed except the impact assessment studies.
'The ministerial briefing session is expected to lead to the adoption of an official country position on the VPA, which will then be submitted to Cabinet for approval before the signing and ratification to make the VPA legally binding,' she said.
Science Timber VPA 2 Accra The paper noted that illegal logging, which comprised all activities ranging from harvesting, transporting, purchasing and selling of timber in violation of national laws, was partially responsible for 85 per cent decrease in forest cover in the country since 1900.
It said illegal logging activities included the use of corrupt means to gain access to the forest, extraction of timber without permission or from a protected area, cutting of protected species, extraction of timber in excess of agreed limits, fraudulent declaration to customs and the avoidance of taxes and other charges.
The paper said when the VPA became operational, it would provide standards to determine legal timber as against illegal timber and also provide a system of verification and establish institutional arrangements for the issuance of certificate of legality, which would include certificate of legal compliance (CLC) and certificate of legal origin (CLO).
'It will include an updated wood tracking system to trace timber from the forest through to export - an independent timber validation body will be established to continuously verify that timber meets the definition of legality before being granted a licence of legality,' it said.
It said the VPA would help to improve forest governance and management and thereby help to protect Ghana's eco-system, adding that, it would also make the Ghanaian forest laws more clear, enforceable and supportive of proper forest management.
The paper noted that at the global level, illegal timber trade valued at $US150 billion a year, represented a tenth of the total global timber trade, saying the illegal logging in Africa varied from 50 per cent in
Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, 70 per cent in Gabon and as high as 80 per cent in Liberia. It said similar VPAs would also be signed on bilateral basis between the EU and those four other African countries from which the EU imported timber, adding that the move was in response to EU citizens' growing preferences for products from legal rather than suspicious origins.