Vietnam wanted to finish negotiations and sign the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade /Voluntary Partnerships Agreement (FLEGT/VPA) with the European Union late next year to facilitate Vietnamese wooden products entering the EU market.

Addressing a national consultation workshop on FLEGT/VPA on August 3, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Hua Duc Nhi said that Vietnam 's timber processing industry had developed remarkably, creating jobs and contributing to the country's poverty reduction.

However, he said, the industry faced challenges including low efficiency and productivity, a disadvantaged financial environment and especially meeting new requirements on logging and sustainable timber sources.

The FLEGT Action Plan, approved by the EU in 2003, will take effect in March 2013 as one of EU's responses to international concerns about illegal logging and trading. It sets out supply-and-demand measures to combat the problem. The implementation of the FLEGT/VPA aims to establish control and licensing procedures in timber producing and processing countries to ensure that only products made from legally-harvested timber can enter the EU.

Vietnam and the EU started formal negotiations for the bilateral FLEGT/VPA last May and expect to sign the agreement late next year.

"Global level consumer markets are changing and Vietnam needs to be prepared," said Hans Farhammer, first secretary and head of Economic Co-operation, EU Delegation to Vietnam , adding that European consumers now demanded guarantees to demonstrate that the products were not having negative environmental and social impacts. The FLEGT VPA process will help Vietnam respond to these changing market requirements, he said.

Nguyen Tuong Van, head of Vietnam 's standing office for FLEGT, said that Vietnam had about 3,400 enterprises that employed 300,000 in the timber processing sector.

Last year, wood product export turnover reached 3.34 billion USD, 10 times higher than in 2000. The EU market is the second largest importer of Vietnamese wooden furniture, accounting for 30 percent of total exports, just behind the United States with 45 percent. In 2009, there was about 16.24 million ha of forestry land in Vietnam , 48 percent of which provided material for the wood processing industry. However, Vietnam still had to import wood/timber from other countries including Malaysia and Laos .

Van said that complicated domestic timber flows and different timber sources made it difficult to control illegal logging, making Vietnam a high risk exporter.

"This fact has urged the country's action plan to adapt, improve awareness and develop a legal frame work and timber legality assurance system," she said.

These negotiations will help Vietnam maintain and expand markets and avoid a recession in a sector that provides jobs for hundred of thousands of people. They will also improve the national image and trade brand as well as law enforcement in the sector.

Nguyen Van Thu, director of Pisico Wooden Furniture Joint Stock Company based in central Binh Dinh province, said that to export products to the EU, his company, like many others, and had to meet the requirements of importers including earning certificates from organisations such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Thu said he hoped that with a FSC certificate, his company will not have to apply for a FLEGT licence.

Ha Cong Tuan, deputy director of the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, said that Vietnam had a sufficient legal framework to fight illegal logging and associated trades, but still needed to improve law enforcement.

The FLEGT licence will be a key method of entering the EU market, and Vietnamese authorities will help enterprises obtain the licence./.