As at February 2020, Ghana was very upbeat about completing the process to obtain the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan (FLEGT) license from the European Union (EU), before the end of that year.

Speaking to Journalists in February 2020, after a tour of the Logs and Lumber Limited (LLL), a timber processing company in Kumasi, with a delegation from the EU and officials of the Forestry Commission, Mr. Chris Beeko, Director, Timber Validation Department of the Commission, was very certain that, the process would be completed in the aforementioned year, to pave the way for issuance of the license.

But, after a finalised independent assessment of the legality assurance system described in the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on FLEGT between Ghana and the EU, Ghana failed to meet all the criteria.

A statement by the EU explained that, the assessment reviewed all aspects of Ghana’s licensing system to ascertain its fitness for purpose as the finalisation of the assessment is an important step in the VPA process, to inform the parties in their decision about Ghana’s readiness to issue FLEGT license.

“The assessment concluded that the system was not ready. A major gap identified was the long-standing issue of conversion of extant leases to Timber Utilization Contracts, which requires the political approval of the Parliament to happen. Other gaps identified included the absence, or obsolescence, of forest management plans by the Forestry Commission, and the effective resolution of non-compliances associated with the supply chain”, the statement said.

The assessment therefore recommended that Ghana implement corrective actions to address the issues prior to launching the FLEGT licensing scheme.

Thanking the independent experts for their thorough analysis, the EU could not hide its disappointment in the failure of Ghana to start licensing.

According to the EU, Ghana now has to work with resolve to crown its decade-long effort in the implementation of the VPA to address quickly all outstanding issues for FLEGT licensing.

Ms Diana Acconcia, Head of the EU Delegation to Ghana said “Ultimately, we expect FLEGT-licensed timber products to bring significant economic benefits to Ghana and its forestry sector, as they will automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation”.

On Ghana’s part, the Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission, John Allotey, re-echoed the country position that “with the significant part of the Legality Assurance System (GhLAS) implementation behind us, Ghana’s remains committed to closing all identified gaps in order to come to the point of readiness for FLEGT licensing”.

About the EU-Ghana VPA Agreement

In year 2009, Ghana entered into a voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) with the EU, which said that Ghana would be trading with the EU under licenses that are called timber legality or FLEGT Licenses and the country had since been implementing the commitments laid out in the VPA text and annexes.

Ghana as per the agreement has committed to developing a timber legality assurance system so it can issue verified legal timber products with FLEGT licences. Once the system is operational, Ghana commits to export to the EU only FLEGT-licensed timber products.

Before FLEGT licensing can begin, however, the EU and Ghana must confirm that Ghana’s timber legality assurance system is working and meets the requirements set out in the VPA, through a joint evaluation of the system. The joint evaluation must satisfy the Ghana-EU Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism (JMRM) that the system is ready to issue FLEGT licences, meaning the system should be robust and credible enough to ensure it licenses only legal products.

The JMRM therefore oversees implementation of the VPA. The forest minister leads Ghana's delegation to the JMRM and the EU’s representation is led by the EU Ambassador to Ghana.

Any Hope for Ghana to get the license?

Obed Owusu-Addai, Managing Campaigner for EcoCare Ghana and member, Forest Watch Ghana, was hopeful that Ghana could be able to finally get the FLEGT License this year.

He told in an exclusive interview that, more than 80 per cent of the issues contained in the VPA agreement have been addressed by Ghana including all the governance issues.

He said, the remaining issues are the institutional corrupt practices that the government of Ghana and Forestry Commission are to deal with, including some few technical issues.

“The press release issued by the EU when they expressed disappointment, the disappointment was not to the VPA Process as a whole, the disappointment was to government and the lack of political will on the part of government to undertake the reforms that they need to undertake especially the conversion of the extant leases and all those issues”, he said.

He explained that “There is also technical issue like the forest management plan. In Ghana before you can harvest a timber from any forest reserve, the forest reserve must have a forest management plan, a document that will be used to manage that forest. The truth is that, all forests in Ghana have them but most of them have expired and they need to be revived and that has not been done, because there cannot be a forest reserve without a management plan and that is what the government has failed to do”.

The non-compliances, he said, are the problems within the supply chain including the various checkpoints and what they are supposed to do.

According to him, Ghana has however stepped-up efforts to get the license and measures are being put in place to meet all the requirements.

“The extant leases have been converted and waiting for parliamentary approval and we have assurance from the Ministry that, ones the new Minister designate for Lands and Natural Resources takes office, one of the main issues that he will be sending to parliament are these converted leases to be ratified by parliament and on the part of the forest management plan, by last count there were about 79 forest reserves that their management plan expired and the forestry commission took steps to review about 33 of them and plans are far advance to revise the rest”, he said.

Mr Obed revealed that, the system that has been design is foolproof and has the capacity to address all the problems and was hopeful that Ghana would be able to secure the license in the shortest possible time.

The next JMRM meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 2021.

Story by Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda- Accra