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Ghana And EU Affirm Commitment Towards Voluntary Partnership Agreement   
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The Government of Ghana and the European Union (EU) have reaffirmed their commitment towards an effective implementation of the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).

A statement issued by the EU Delegation in Accra-Ghana on Monday, said, this was announced at the Fourth meeting of the VPA Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM) in Accra.

The Ghana-EU JMRM ensures an effective development of systems needed to implement the agreement and to follow up on commitments of both parties.

The meeting provided the parties with the opportunity to have a firsthand discussion on how to develop a framework for monitoring the impacts of the Agreement.

Ghana became the first timber-producing country to sign a VPA with the EU in November 2009.

Following Ghana's lead, five other countries have also concluded VPAs, and many more are currently in a process of VPA negotiations.

Both parties are fully committed to taking all necessary measures for the issuance of FLEGT licenses by March 2013, when a new EU regulation requiring importers to carry out due diligence to assure the legality of timber products, comes into effect.

The statement said during the meeting, the parties discussed progress on implementation of the Agreement.

Updates were provided on the components of the Legality Assurance System (LAS) - in particular the progress on the wood tracking system, the legality verification protocols and the independent monitoring of the system, the policy and legislative review, and on the progress on the domestic market policy.

The working rules of procedure for the JMRM as well as further elaboration of rules of arbitration have been agreed.

In the update, Ghana highlighted advances in the development of a workable system for verifying the legality of timber and will soon contract an Independent Monitor.

The 2010 and 2011 Annual Reports on the VPA implementation will be published by the end of April 2012.

At the meeting Mr Henry Ford Kamel, Member of Parliament for Buem and out-going Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, expressed appreciation for the continued partnership with the EU to enhance transparency and good governance in the forestry sector.

He stressed commitment of Government to implement the VPA, and outlined progress in the review of the Ghanaian forest laws, and in the introduction of a procurement policy for wood on the domestic market.

Mr Kamel reiterated the good political will of the Government, and emphasised the commitment to inject the needed efforts to speed implementation according to the timelines.

EU Ambassador Claude Maerten said he was encouraged by the crucial steps being taken on the Wood Tracking System, the Independent Monitor and on the domestic market.

He stressed that it was important to remain focused on tackling challenges of illegality in the domestic market as it would undermine forest governance.

“Addressing the supply of legally harvested timber in the domestic market is essential to dealing with deforestation and forest degradation.”

Mr Maerten said the linkages of deforestation with climate change and loss of fiscal revenue.

He welcomed the presence of two Parliamentarians from the Parliamentary Select Committee on Lands and Forestry, as it shows that Ghana is serious to ensure accountability in the forestry sector.

Mr Maerten expressed the need to implement decisions taken by both parties, and welcomed the participation of both the private sector and the civil society as they had a key role in implementation.

It is expected that the next series of meetings of JMRM would be held in Accra in September 2012.

In 2003 the EU adopted its Action Plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) to address the problem of illegal logging and related trade.

At the core of the Action Plan are Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with timber-exporting countries that wish to eliminate illegal timber from their trade with the EU.

The idea of these bilateral agreements is to allow for the identification of legal timber from the countries concerned through the issuing of FLEGT licences and to only allow such timber into the EU when accompanied by a FLEGT licence.

These agreements will mean that all the products covered by the Agreement can be considered to have been legally harvested, processed and traded.

The VPA foresees the establishment of a system to assure legality (LAS) of timber and timber products that are destined, in the case of the Ghana-EU VPA, for the international or the domestic market. In addition to establishing essential elements of a licensing scheme, the Ghana-EU VPA foresees a wide range of policy and legal reforms that will engender good governance, transparency, and accountability in the forestry sector of Ghana.

To ensure the effective implementation of the VPA, the Agreement establishes a Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM), a body that will conduct periodic reviews of VPA implementation.

The JMRM is established under the Agreement to facilitate the implementation of the VPA; provide recommendations for capacity building; and assess the social, economic and environmental impacts of the Agreement.

As envisaged under the Agreement and agreed by both Ghana and the EU, the JMRM meets at least once a year to discuss the status of VPA implementation.

JMRM Aide Memoires are signed by the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR) and by the Head of EU Delegation to Ghana, and are made publicly available.

Recent developments in the EU legislation (Regulation EU 995/2010 of 20 October 2010), that lay down obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market, will apply as of March 3, 2013.

FLEGT-licensed timber will be considered to meet the requirements of this Regulation.

The EU has so far concluded FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements with five African countries, Ghana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Liberia and Republic of Congo, and one Asian country, Indonesia; and is negotiating with a number of other countries, including Malaysia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Vietnam. **
Source: GNA

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