The Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, launched in 2003, is the European Union’s (EU) response to the global fight against illegal logging. In particular, FLEGT aims at reducing trade in illegal timber between the EU and timber producer partner countries.
FLEGT operates through two major instruments: bilateral trade agreements — known as voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs) — that are signed with willing producer countries, and the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR), which came into force in March 2013. The EUTR mandates EU importers to exert due diligence in their sourcing of timber from abroad to exclude illegal supplies.
To date, six countries have signed VPAs. Among them, five have committed to apply VPA provisions regarding legality verification not only to timber imported to Europe, but also to timber traded on the domestic market in signatory producer countries. This means that timber harvested and traded on the domestic market will be regulated by national VPA licensing schemes (the so-called Timber Legality Assurance System, TLAS).
Gabon officially entered into VPA negotiations in September 2010. The initial engagement resulted in agreement on a road map and the production of a legality matrix. However, the latter has not yet been validated and negotiations were resumed only recently. It is difficult to predict the final coverage of the VPA, but available information seems to indicate that it will also cover the domestic market.
The domestic timber market has undergone a drastic transformation in recent years. Pro-Formal results indicate that the domestic consumption of artisanal sawn wood decreased by almost half in 2008–2012, and that more timber than in the past is now supplied by industrial scraps, as industrial production for the national market increased during the same period. These trends are largely explained by the financial crisis, a log export ban effective as of 2010 that forced industrial companies to process timber locally, and increased control and enforcement efforts.
Also, in recent years, the Ministry of Forest Economics (Ministère de l’Economie Forestière, MEF) has issued an increased number of small-scale exploitation permits including: Special Permits (Permis Spéciaux); Pit-sawing Authorizations (Autorisations de Sciage de Long, ASL); and Special Logging Authorizations (Autorisations Spéciales de Coupe, ASC). Unfortunately, most of these are not listed in the current forestry law and should be considered contentious. Conversely, the Discretionary Permit (Permis de Gré à Gré, PGG) (the only small-scale permit included in the current law) was suspended in 2010 and was only reinstated in mid-2014.
The first community forests, which have long been planned as the legal alternative for chain-saw millers to source their timber, were implemented at the beginning of 2013. PGGs and community forests are complementary and their effective implementation could provide a sufficient amount of legal artisanal sawn wood for the Gabonese domestic market. Effective implementation will require a concerted effort by the administration.