As Vietnam and Laos negotiate to enter a European Union trade agreement aimed at improving forestry governance, the EU – one of the world’s top timber importers – is urging Cambodia to join the scheme.
Following an official meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Ouk Rabun in Phnom Penh on January 23, Jean-Francois Cautain, EU ambassador to Cambodia, said the EU would support a Cambodian effort to enter the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) agreement.
If Cambodia chooses to enter into FLEGT negotiations, it will seek a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU, a legally binding trade agreement which helps ensure that timber and timber products exported to the EU come from legal sources.
“Strong political commitment is the main precondition for FLEGT,” Cautain said.
“Should the royal government of Cambodia decide to enter to the FLEGT process, the European Union would provide support for the strengthening of the forest governance.”
Vietnam and Laos are currently negotiating with the EU to become an adherent of FLEGT standards.
While the agriculture minister could not be reached for comment yesterday, he told the Post last week that he had received documents concerning FLEGT from the EU ambassador but had not reviewed them yet.
Am Sam Ath, senior coordinator for rights group Licadho, said that while he welcomed Cambodia entering a FLEGT, he questioned the government’s commitment to take part in the scheme.
“FLEGT will promote the legal export of timber and transparency in the sector; however, to be able to implement the scheme, the Cambodian government needs to take more serious action against illegal logging and strengthen its regulations on forest management,” he explained.
Sam Ath was also concerned that Cambodia could become a supplier of timber to Vietnam if Vietnam signed the VPA before Cambodia did.
“In that case, illegal timbers from Cambodia will become legal timbers in Vietnam,” he said.