In November 2020, with support from Forest Trends, representatives from seven Vietnamese timber, woodchip, and plywood associations signed a set of commitments to contribute to the development of a more sustainable timber industry. These commitments include:
- Supporting the government in implementing national regulations outlined in Vietnam’s Timber Legality Assurance System (VNTLAS),
- Strict compliance with these national regulations, especially with regard to ensuring the legality of timber (including imported tropical timber) along the entire supply chain,
- Requiring all association members to commit to eliminating high-risk timber from their products for both domestic and export markets,
- Encouraging the use of domestic plantation timber and imported timber from low-risk source countries,
- Supporting the expansion of domestic markets in a way that encourages the use of legal timber, and improves timber traceability systems, as well as facilitating a shift from high-risk timber to low-risk imports and domestic plantations,
- Advising the government in the formulation of a public procurement policy to encourage the use of low-risk and domestic plantation timber, and the exclusion of high-risk imported timber from state-funded projects, and
- Facilitating the transition towards sustainable forestry development in Vietnam by supporting afforestation, forest protection, and biodiversity conversation, as well as forest–reliant communities.
To help reach these commitments, the associations established the “Vietnam Green Fund” and mobilized approximately US$220,000 from their members. The Fund will be used for afforestation, national forest protection, biodiversity conservation, supporting local communities to shift from high-risk to low-risk timber use, and media campaigns advocating low– risk timber consumption in Vietnam.
This ambitious private sector initiative could lead to positive changes and impacts on future government policies and forest sector actors beyond just the associations and their members. This initiative will also contribute to the successful implementation of existing policies, as well as shifts in the behavior and practices of the general population in their use of timber products. In addition, the initiative will help the sector comply with international commitments, such as the Forest Law Implementation, Governance, and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA).
The FLEGT VPA and the VNTLAS Decree
Voluntary private sector commitments to create a more sustainable timber industry in Vietnam are part of a larger shift underway in Vietnam, including commitments by the government itself.
The FLEGT VPA, which Vietnam signed with the European Commission, came into effect in June 2019. Its primary goal is to eliminate illegal timber from all supply chains. The VNTLAS Decree was issued by the Vietnamese government in September 2020 to aid the implementation of the FLEGT VPA. One of the main objectives of the Decree is to develop mechanisms which ensure the legality of Vietnam’s imported timber and are based on criteria which classify level of risk based on geographic origin and timber species.
On November 27th, Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) published its list of 51 positive geographies/countries (available here), as well as a list of the 322 timber species recently imported into Vietnam (available here). High-risk countries are those not listed in the positive geography list. High-risk species are the ones not included in the species list. These include species imported for the first time, species that are listed in CITES Appendices, or those classified as category IA or IIA under Vietnamese law. The VNTLAS Decree specifies that this species list is to be updated every six months.
There are, however, some major concerns regarding these lists. First, applying a blanket approach to classifying a country as a positive or non-positive geography has some weaknesses. A country classified as a non-positive geography may still have forest areas that has been certified as sustainable, or timber that has been harvested from low-risk areas. Second, timber originally harvested from a non-positive country but then exported to a positive country before subsequently being exported to Vietnam could be considered low-risk – effectively circumventing the VNTLAS Decree. Third, legal frameworks governing timber harvest, processing, and trade in a source country are complex, may not be consistent, may go through rapid changes, and in some cases, are in conflict with one another. A source country may allow the export of sawnwood but ban the export of logs. A source country may permit the export of some species while prohibiting the export of others. Keeping track of all this is a large and daunting task for the Vietnamese government.
Even with published MARD lists, the effectiveness of any import control mechanisms depends heavily on the capacity, awareness, and expertise of the country’s competent authorities. Questions also remain on what concrete evidence importers (especially those sourcing from non–positive countries and of high-risk species) need to gather and submit in order to gain permission to bring timber into the country.
For more detailed information on the FLEGT VPA and the VNTLAS Decree see our recent report with Forest Trends: Vietnam’s Import of Tropical Timber and the Implementation of the Vietnam Timber Legality Assurance System: Africa, Cambodia, Laos and Papua New Guinea.
High-risk imported timber in the supply chain
Vietnam depends heavily on imported tropical timber, mostly in the form of logs and sawnwood, especially for the manufacture of wood products for domestic consumption. These imports amount to approximately 1.5 million cubic meters annually, or 30 percent of the total volume of all imported logs and sawnwood. The most significant sources of tropical timber imports are Laos, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), and African countries. Imports from PNG and Africa have been increasing.
The Vietnam FLEGT VPA clearly emphasizes that the legality requirements for timber products on domestic market are the same as those for export. Controlling the legality of all aspects of supply chains, particularly high-risk imports, is key to the successful implementation of the VPA.
Our recent analysis of Vietnam’s tropical timber import shows that, based on criteria specified in the VNTLAS Decree, almost none of the source countries exporting tropical timber to Vietnam are on the positive geography list. We also highlighted in our analysis that high-risk timber species comprise a relatively high proportion of imports from the focus countries, especially those imported from Cambodia and Laos.
We suggest that, in order to eliminate illegal timber from the supply chain, the Government of Vietnam should be vigilant about legal frameworks on timber harvest, processing, and trade in source countries, and update the geography and species lists as needed to ensure the legality of all imports.
By strictly complying with the VPA and VNTLAS Decree and committing to facilitating a move to a sustainable forestry sector, the signatory Vietnamese timber associations can play a crucial role in the evolution of Vietnam’s timber industry into a more transparent and sustainable sector. These commitments are a major first step in reaching this ambitious goal in the future.