A European Union-funded project addressing the timber industry in Vietnam and Laos was launched on August 21 in Hanoi by the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Centre for People and Nature Reconciliation.

The four-year project, which includes forest-dependent communities, civil society groups, timber processing enterprises and government agencies, aims to help the countries comply with an EU regulation that took effect in March. Under the regulation, all timber products imported to the EU must be certified as legal.

Vietnam currently imports approximately 40 percent of raw materials for processing and export, speakers at the launch ceremony said. Control of imported timber, which ensures that legitimate timber is legally harvested under the laws of the exporting country, is a key element in the legal timber assurance system in Vietnam.

There were currently millions of farmers planting material forests and more than 3,500 small and medium processing and exporting enterprises in Vietnam, said Nguyen Ba Ngai, deputy director of the Vietnam Administration of Forestry.

To avoid complicated procedures of declaring timber origin for Vietnamese furniture exported to the EU, he urged Vietnam's Government to establish a credible and effective system for timber licensing, legality verification and monitoring.

"The project is especially important as Vietnam and EU are in the final stage of VPA negotiations, which will finish by the end of this year," he said.

In 2010, Vietnam and the EU began negotiating a trade agreement with the goal of tackling obstacles to the production and export of timber products to the EU.-VNA