FLEGT stands for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade. The EU published the EU FLEGT Action Plan in 2003. The Action Plan aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening the sustainability and legality of forest management, improving forest governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber. FLEGT takes a multidimensional, coherent approach to overcoming the complex drivers and enablers of illegal logging. This approach is encompassed in the five letters of F-L-E-G-T and the seven elements of the Action Plan.

Explaining the acronym FLEGT

F is for Forest

The EU FLEGT Action Plan protects tropical forests from the devastating effects of illegal logging. Forests support 90% of the world’s biodiversity, regulate water quality, and mitigate climate change by absorbing and storing close to half of the world’s terrestrial carbon. More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for food, medicine and livelihoods. Forests are also crucial to the global economy, providing billions of dollars in raw materials for timber, paper and construction.

L is for Law

FLEGT applies legal measures in the EU and timber-producing countries to combat illegal logging. The EU has adopted a regulation to stop businesses from placing illegal timber products on the EU market. In timber-producing countries involved in FLEGT, governments are working to stop illegal logging and to ensure that supplies of timber are legal. Governments in timber-producing countries are ensuring that laws governing the use of forests are fair, effective and practical to enforce, and that people who depend on forests and businesses understand and agree with these laws. Through FLEGT, timber-exporting countries develop systems to verify the legality of their timber products.

E is for Enforcement

FLEGT strengthens the enforcement of laws that prohibit illegal logging and trade in illegal timber products. It clarifies definitions of legality in timber-producing countries and ensures countries have robust supply-chain controls in place to ensure legality. This makes it easier for law enforcers and judiciaries to do their jobs. Since 2013, all countries in the EU have been required to enforce a regulation requiring businesses dealing in timber to ensure that the wood they trade is legal.

G is Governance

FLEGT tackles poor forest governance head-on by improving transparency, accountability, participation, capacity and coordination. In the EU and timber-producing countries, the private sector and civil society are involved in developing the FLEGT approach to ensuring legality. Multistakeholder participation enables groups with different perspectives to reach consensus, and ensures solutions have broad support.

T is for Trade

FLEGT leverages trade to both increase the supply of legal timber and reduce demand for illegal timber. Trade measures can be powerful. In 2011, the global trade in primary timber products alone was worth more than EUR 108 billion. EU companies and intra-EU trade accounted for about 35% of this global trade. Without illegal logging the value of timber traded would have been even higher as criminality depresses world prices for timber and timber products by an estimated 7 to 16%. FLEGT levels the playing field in the timber trade and increases market access for legitimate businesses by eliminating illegal timber. 80% of tropical timber exports to the EU come from countries involved in FLEGT.

Explaining the EU FLEGT Action Plan

The EU FLEGT Action Plan sets out seven measures that together prevent the importation of illegal timber into the EU, improve the supply of legal timber and increase demand for timber from responsibly managed forests.

Supporting timber-producing countries

The EU provides financial and technical support to countries that want to address illegal logging. This support helps countries to build timber legality assurance systems, promote transparency, build the capacity of governments, civil society and businesses, and reform policies. EU support promotes fair, equitable solutions to illegal logging that do not harm people living in poverty.

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Promoting trade in legal timber

An important element of the trade-related measures set out in the Action Plan is to engage major timber consumers and explore ways of working together towards a comprehensive multilateral framework to restrict illegally harvested timber from entering their markets. Co-operation between the EU, the United States and Japan is key as they account for a large part of the world market for timber and timber products. The EU is also making efforts to engage other major markets for timber and timber products, particularly China, in the expansion of the global FLEGT initiative. The Action Plan includes legislation to control imports of illegally harvested timber into the EU: The EU Timber Regulation has been in place since 2013.

Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between the EU and timber-producing countries also promote trade in legal timber products and help to close the EU market to illegal products. A VPA improves forest governance and, ultimately, guarantees that timber and timber products exported to the EU are legal. Each VPA defines ‘legal timber’ according to the laws and regulations of the timber-producing country. Negotiating the Agreement provides an opportunity for private sector and civil society to get involved in developing national legality standards. Each VPA sets out a strong timber legality assurance system that can verify that a consignment of timber is legal and merits the award of a ‘FLEGT licence’. FLEGT-licensed timber will be free to enter the EU market as it will automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation. A VPA can help a timber-producing country achieve its development objectives by securing employment, increasing government revenues, strengthening the rule of law and safeguarding the rights of forest peoples.

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Promoting environmentally and socially beneficial public procurement policies

Public infrastructure projects funded by EU Member States are among the largest European consumers of timber. Ensuring that these projects only use legal timber is a key element of FLEGT. Public procurement legislation takes environmental considerations into account in purchasing decisions. The European Commission Handbook on Green Procurement explains how public authorities can ensure that procurement helps achieve local, regional, national and international sustainability goals.

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Supporting private-sector initiatives

The European Commission provides technical and financial assistance to help the private sector ensure that supply chains are free of illegalities. FLEGT licensing makes this easier. A FLEGT licence guarantees that timber and timber products are legal and that they come from a country where forest laws have been agreed with stakeholders. A FLEGT licence also ensures that the issuing country has a robust system in place, verifiable by independent audit, to stop illegal timber entering the supply chain.

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Financing and investment safeguards

Large-scale investments in land, agriculture and infrastructure in timber-producing countries can encourage illegal logging if they drive deforestation. FLEGT encourages investors, including export credit agencies, banks and financial institutions, to use strong due-diligence procedures to limit the social and environmental effects of investments in the forest sector. The EU FLEGT Action Plan also encourages investors, including export credit agencies, to be cautious when investing in areas where land ownership is disputed or where there are contradictions between official and traditional land ownership rights.

Using existing or new legislation

The EU Timber Regulation came into effect in all countries in the EU on 3 March 2013. The Regulation prohibits the placing of illegally harvested timber on the European market, and covers both imported and domestically produced timber and timber products. The Regulation sets out procedures to minimise the risk of illegal wood entering the EU market. Businesses placing a timber product on the EU market must make every effort to ensure that it is legal. These efforts are called ‘due diligence.’ Businesses selling or buying timber already on the market have to keep records that adequately trace the origin of the wood they buy or sell. Timber or timber products that carry a valid FLEGT licence or Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit are automatically considered to comply with the requirements of the Regulation.

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Addressing the problem of conflict timber

Conflict has often been fuelled by the profits that armed groups make by selling illegally or legally harvested timber. When the EU FLEGT Action Plan was developed in the early 2000s, timber stolen by Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia was being used to fund rebels fighting the government in neighbouring Sierra Leone. The conflict threatened to destabilise the region. At that time there was no agreed international definition of conflict timber or any plan to solve the problem. FLEGT includes actions to agree on an international definition of conflict timber and to ensure EU development aid programmes take account of the role of forests in conflicts.

EU FLEGT Action Plan
Evaluation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan
FLEGT licensed timber
VPA Unpacked