TFT's Sarah Hickman discusses how the UK's exit from the EU could affect the EUTR, VPA negotiations and FLEGT licensing
The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union has left some wondering what Brexit may mean for the future of the EUTR in this country but also the impact it could have on wider FLEGT activities.
The UK has been one of the main driving forces behind FLEGT, from its inception through to its implementation. FLEGT, the EU’s programme for ‘Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade’, is seen by many as one of the most progressive policy instruments on tropical forestry. FLEGT includes ‘Voluntary Partnership Agreements’ (VPAs), which are trade deals with timber producing countries, and the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) to control illegal timber coming into the EU market.
Possible implications of Brexit on the EUTR
European regulations such as the EUTR, which is also known as ‘Timber and Timber Products (Placing on the Market) Regulation 2013’, are enacted through member state law. This means the EUTR is part of UK law.
The process of the UK leaving the EU will not start until the UK enacts Article 50, at which point two years of negotiations will start. During this period, all EU laws will still apply to the UK. The UK will continue to participate in the EU as normal during this time.
The UK will go through a process of reviewing EU regulations and decide which regulations to keep, amend or repeal completely. The time frame for this review is not clear at this stage but it could be upwards of a decade.
The current view amongst the forestry NGO community, and also of TFT, is that regulation will be kept, for the key reasons outlined below.
- • If the UK wishes to remain within the single market (also known as the European Economic Area or EEA), currently the key message from politicians and business leaders is that the UK will be required to implement the same environmental laws as EU member states. For example, Norway, which is not part of the European Union, adopted the EUTR. Therefore, it’s likely that the EUTR will remain unchanged in the UK.
- • The UK, especially its NGO community, was instrumental in bringing the FLEGT and the EUTR into being and continues to be among the most proactive in driving its implementation. The UK’s Competent Authority ‘Regulatory Delivery’ is viewed as one of the most active member states and is working collaboratively with the EC, and other Competent Authorities, to strengthen and harmonise approaches.
- • The proliferation of consumer market regulations around the world, including developments in Japan and China, show this type of regulation continues to be the trend in many countries. It would seem counter-intuitive for the UK to drop the regulation given that the private sector has invested heavily in compliance.
Steps are being taken to harmonise and strengthen the enforcement of the EUTR across member states. The UK is currently viewed as one of the better resourced and active in this area, having contributed significantly to this process. A decision to leave the EU therefore calls into question the UK’s future collaborative role in this process, which could result in a lapse in momentum.
Possible implications for VPA negotiations and FLEGT-licensed timber
The UK has historically been a major driving force behind Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) trade deals with timber producing countries.
The recent ‘Evaluation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan’, commissioned by the EC, highlighted just how instrumental the UK is in providing support (financial and human resource) to VPA and non-VPA producer countries (See Figure 1). This is all the more important because only a limited number of member states provide significant economic and HR support for the implementation of the FLEGT.
EU member state support to timber producing countries
Once the two years of negotiations have passed (after the enactment of Article 50) UK officials will no longer have a formal role in the negotiation of VPAs. However, given that UK has been so influential and provided invaluable contributions to the policy so far, it is likely that the UK will continue to play an important role, although the nature and extent of this is unknown. Following the Norwegian model, the UK could become an observer in FLEGT Committee meetings. In this case, institutional arrangements would likely be established to ensure that coordination in aid spending and business-to-business engagement with the UK timber trade would not be negatively impacted by Brexit.
A question mark remains over the impact Brexit will have on forest-related aid. This in-part depends on whether the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% on aid is reduced as a result of economic deterioration or a devaluation of the British Pound2.
As a study by Winkel Derks (June 2016)3 highlights, without the UK, the EU would lose influence and diplomatic standing substantially in global forest governance; highlighting the importance of the FLEGT programme, but also REDD (The United Nations programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) funding. 4.
The first FLEGT-licensed timber from Indonesia is scheduled to be imported in the coming months. The UK will accept these imports, as planned, while it remains part of the EU during the two-year negotiation phase. The requirement for FLEGT-licensed timber from VPA countries is part of UK law through the ‘ The Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Regulations 2012’.
If the UK remains within the single market, FLEGT licensing, like the EUTR, will more than likely continue to apply. However, the FLEGT Regulation, which sets out the responsibilities of European Member States on receiving FLEGT licences, is not currently reflected in the EEA Agreement. This means new arrangements will be required.
As detailed above, the UK has been at the forefront of VPA negotiations and integral in supporting countries such as Indonesia on the path towards FLEGT licensing. The UK also recognises FLEGT licences in its national procurement policy, requiring all government departments and agencies to procure either legal and sustainable timber, or FLEGT-licensed timber.
For these reasons, TFT does not expect the UK stance on importing FLEGT licences to change.
 Evaluation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) 2004-2014. https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/sites/devco/files/report-flegt-evaluation.pdf
 Brexit, FLEGT, and the Timber Trade Information Brief, Forest Trends, June 2016
 “The nature of Brexit. How the UK exiting the European Union could affect European forest and (forest related) environmental policy”. Winkel and Derks, European Forest Institute, June 2016.