On September 1, 2020, the Government of Vietnam issued Decree 102/2020/ND-CP enacting Vietnam’s Timber Legality Assurance System (VNTLAS) as part of its commitments under the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), a bilateral trade agreement with the European Union, but which covers all timber imported and exported from Vietnam. One of the main objectives of the Decree is to develop mechanisms to ensure the legality of Vietnam’s imported timber, based on criteria which classify risks by country of origin and timber species. The Decree entered into force on October 30, 2020 but implementation was delayed until the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) published a list of “positive” geographical regions on November 27, 2020, or those source countries deemed low-risk which, by default, also indicates that any countries not on this list are considered high-risk.
While the VNTLAS is now being implemented, some early challenges should be expected given that this is a new system.
The FLEGT VPA and the VNTLAS prescribe risk classification criteria which rate the timber’s country of origin according to, among other things, the existence of a mandatory national framework on due diligence, a World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicator of zero or higher, or mandatory certification systems for national timber.aConcerns have been raised about the results of this risk classification, and specifically the inclusion of some countries on the list of positive geographies released in November 2020. This dashboard does not use the same risk criteria as the one outlined in the VNTLAS and FLEGT VPA. In October 2020, the U.S. initiated an investigation under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to address environmental concerns related to Vietnam’s import and use of illegal timber. On October 1, 2021, the U.S. and Vietnam announced an Agreement which sets out several commitments to keep illegal timber out of the supply chain, including revisiting the risk classification.
The VNTLAS is yet to be formally recognized as meeting the standards set by the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) and Vietnam is not currently issuing FLEGT licenses. Vietnam will begin issuing FLEGT licenses when the timber legality assurance system has been successfully tested, and when Vietnam and the EU are satisfied that it functions as described in the VPA. In Europe, a FLEGT licence denotes complete compliance with the EUTR for European importers; however, a FLEGT licence may not in and of itself guarantee compliance with timber import regulations in other jurisdictions, such as the U.S. Lacey Act in the United States.