Voluntary Partnership Agreement in Liberia

Liberia still contains about half of the entire rainforest remaining in West Africa. About 45% of the country, 4.3 million hectares, is covered by forest. Liberia, with a relatively small population of about 3.5 million inhabitants, is blessed and rich in natural resources that can provide, if managed sustainably, income and opportunities for this and future generations. Recognizing this strategic opportunity, on July 27, 2011, the Republic of Liberia signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union (EU), which aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening sustainable forest management, improving forest governance and promoting trade of legally produced timber. In 2003 the EU adopted the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, under which the VPAs were created, to prevent illegal timber from entering the EU.

At the heart of the FLEGT VPA is the Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS or simply, LAS) which verifies that wood products conform to national laws. The forestry Development Authority (FDA) is the executive government institution with responsibility to ensure that the Republic of Liberia honors its commitment to the VPA. The VPA seeks to prevent illegal timber and timber products from entering the European Union. In consideration of this, Liberia has embraced the Legality Assurance System under the VPA process as assurance to both local and international partners that timber and timber products originating from Liberia and placed on local and international markets have been verified to be legally sourced/produced in conformity to Liberian laws.

The Voluntary Partnership Agreement Support Unit (VPASU):

In 2013 the European Union and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) agreed to provide support to Liberia to meet its VPA commitments by establishing the VPA Support Unit to coordinate the capacity building for Liberian stakeholders including government Ministries, Agencies, and Commissions (MACs); the Civil Society and the Private Sector. The VPA SU aims to support Liberian stakeholders/institutions until they gain the necessary capacity to effectively and efficiently implement the VPA independently.

The VPASU is one of the three VPA implementation partners (SGS, and FLEGT Facilitation) also funded by the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (UK-DFID). The VPASU actively participates in donor coordination mainly with USAID, World Bank/Norway.

The Government of Liberia ministries, agencies, and commissions (MACs) being assisted by the VPASU include the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Ministry of Labor (MoL). The VPASU in 2015 initiated the implementation of the Forest Governance Capacity Building of the MoJ and FDA, led by the Environmental Law Institute from USA, to strengthen law enforcement.

The VPASU has been supporting the functioning of all VPA governing bodies in Liberia including the Joint Implementation Committee (JIC), the Liberia Implementation Committee (LIC), the National Multi-Stakeholder Committee (NMSMC), and the Inter-Agency Coordination Committee (IACC), and the VPA Secretariat housed by the FDA.

Regarding assistance to the FDA, the Support Unit completed in 2015 the renovation of the FDA main building in Monrovia, providing equipment, furniture, training and technical assistance to its different departments in main office and regional offices. Part of the technical assistance to FDA has been in developing and updating 10 regulations and guidelines deemed relevant for the implementation of the VPA Legality Assurance System approved by the Liberia-EU Joint Implementation Committee. The SU is also assisting FDA to meet the VPA commitments by building capacity for compliance and enforcement of the FDA’s Commercial Forestry Department, the Community Forestry Department, the Research and Development Department/ GIS Remote Sensing Unit, and the Law Enforcement Division. Assistance also covers the Public Affairs Division to comply with communications and the Freedom of Information Act. During 2016 the SU assisted FDA in developing its capacity to generate updated forest maps based on satellite images, and updating the Code of Forest Harvesting Practices aimed to assist FDA in guiding forest operators to adopt updated best forest practices conducive to sustainable forestry. The Code covers forest management planning, improving forest harvesting practices, low impact logging, environmental mitigation measures, work safety and forest monitoring in coordination with the EPA and Ministry of Labor.

Moreover, the VPASU has been assisting the Civil Society by strengthening the NGO Coalition Secretariat, which coordinates actions from its NGO members, the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committees (NUCFDC) and its Secretariat to develop projects for the about 1000 affected communities to receive funds from the GoL through the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB).

Additionally, the VPASU is assisting the Liberian Timber Association to strengthen its Secretariat to gain economies of scale in representing members in business opportunities, legal advice, receiving training and technical assistance, and to fully participate in the VPA process.

For further inquiries please contact the VPASU at Gardner Avenue between 15th and 16th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia; or via email: Abraham.guillen@vpasu.org.