MOP 19: CBFP - FERN - CAFI: Summary of High-Level Roundtable on Imported Deforestation

On 6 July 2022, the CBFP Facilitation, in collaboration with Fern and the Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI), organised a High-Level Roundtable on an inclusive partnership with the European Union to combat deforestation and promote sustainable development in the Congo Basin on the margins of the 19th Meeting of the Parties of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP). Please download the summary below...

The roundtable brought together representatives of the European institutions (Commission and Parliament), Member States and elected representatives of the European Union (EU). The objective of the meeting was to understand the consequences of the draft EU regulation on deforestation-free products for the countries bordering the Congo Basin. It was also to promote a dialogue on possible approaches for a partnership between the countries of the sub-region and the European Union that also take into account the rights and needs of local populations and small producers in policies to combat deforestation.

 

Raising the EU's ambition and cooperation to address the challenges of global deforestation

Raising the EU's ambition and cooperation to address the challenges of global deforestation

The European Commission, in a desire to minimise deforestation and forest degradation for which the EU is responsible, published in November 2019, a draft regulation to stop the import of products linked to deforestation, namely soy, beef, palm oil, timber, cocoa and coffee. The regulation is currently being discussed in a "trialogue" by the European Parliament, the EU Member States and the Commission, which initially wanted to foster a compromise on the products for which it is a major consumer. Products under the draft regulation will not be allowed to enter the EU market if they have been produced on deforested land after the deadline of 31 December 2020.

 

Moreover, the Commission and member states have committed to intensify dialogue with other important markets such as China and the US and to strengthen its cooperation policy to ensure that the EU's partner countries are able to benefit from the new EU rules on deforestation. The regulation has been a priority issue for the French EU Presidency. The French Presidency drew on its own experience in developing a national strategy on imported deforestation in which cooperation with producer countries is central.  

 

The increasing awareness of the EU's responsibility for deforestation in Africa and Latin America among EU elected representatives is commendable. However, the new EU rules will have to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples and small-scale producers, particularly women, are respected in the supply chains. Maintaining the Voluntary Partnership Agreements of the FLEGT Action Plan as a structure for dialogue must be one of the EU's new priorities. The German government, for example, could support timber-producing countries in improving forest governance and reforestation efforts. For a CBFP institution, it is essential to enable Congo Basin countries to get a “fair price”.

 

The necessity to contextualise and involve partner countries and other stakeholders in the EU's efforts

For all stakeholders, deforestation is not a concept to be globalised and needs to be clarified in each production context with the involvement of actors at national level. As forests are very different around the world, any single definition would be likely to obscure geographical specificities, in particular those of the Congo Basin. The definition of forests should therefore be adapted to the different ecological zones of the intertropical zone, for example by replacing "primary forest" with "natural forest".

 

The aspirations of riparian countries for food sovereignty and sustainable management of forest resources must be respected and supported. A punitive and restrictive approach, for example through the extension of the regulation to the Central African savannahs, could result in negative consequences on national reforms aimed at reconciling protection and sustainable use of forests and land.

 

Representatives of civil society and indigenous peoples welcomed the EU's development of new rules to combat deforestation, thus continuing its pioneering role in environmental protection. However, the EU institutions should favour dialogue rather than coercion. For example, it would be risky to introduce new rules without the participation and consent of forest communities, as the concept of zero deforestation can be confusing and may clash with local and individual strategies to combat poverty. Finally, possible negative effects cannot be ignored, such as the export of products to fewer demanding markets.

As far as the private sector is concerned, efforts to implement tools for due diligence and traceability have been underway for several years and are relatively mature. Supporting governments and companies in creating land-use and development plans that consider forest cover while developing the economy should be a priority.

 

Learning from existing initiatives and seizing new opportunities

Reflection on the lessons learned from existing initiatives is necessary to ensure a positive impact of the new regulation. This will help to prevent any negative effects on existing environmental policies and reforms, in particular on VPAs, which will be subject to additional requirements regarding timber sustainability and access to the EU market.

 

Nevertheless, opportunities exist to enhance existing forest governance instruments in order to make them more effective and better aligned with the development priorities of the countries concerned.

 

The panellists and the audience encouraged the organisers, including Fern, to continue these exchanges at European level in order to integrate the voice of the Congo Basin countries. There could be a risk of fatigue in the face of the multiplication of tools and the limited role of non-European actors in their development.

 

Please download the programme, the summary and the presentations of the meeting below:

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