As Asia's first-ever Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to combat illegal logging was signed into law today (September 30, 2013), the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) cautioned that it would also serve as a test of official resolve to stamp out serious corruption in Indonesia's forest sector.
The historic timber trade agreement was formally initialed in 2011 between the European Union (EU) and Government of Indonesia but is only now coming into legal effect.
The VPA aims to verify the legal export of timber licensed from an Indonesian timber legality assurance system, known as the Sistem Verifikasi Legalitas Kayu (SVLK), and EU Customs authorities will prevent any unlicensed Indonesian products from entering EU markets.
EIA has been at the forefront of efforts to combat the devastation of Indonesia's forests by illegal logging for more than a decade, exposing the criminals involved, lobbying for legislative change and building the capacity of Indonesian civil society.
Faith Doherty, head of EIA's Forest Campaign, today said: "It's been a long, hard journey for all concerned to arrive at this point and we are encouraged to see the VPA come into effect; in particular, we welcome the multi-stakeholder process and the formal role for Indonesia's civil society in monitoring the compliance of the country's timber industry.
"This VPA will dovetail with the EU's existing Timber Regulation, which came into effect in March this year to ban stolen timber from EU markets, and we further congratulate the EU on its long commitment to fight illegal logging and to curb its consumption of stolen timber.
"There are still issues to be addressed within Indonesia and while this signing is a significant step forward, it does not mean that there is not a substantial amount of work still to be done."
Doherty stressed EIA will remain vigilant in its role as a watchdog of illegal logging and related corruption, and warned the VPA will effectively test the resolve of the Government of Indonesia in tackling corruption.
"The ongoing investigation into the activities of corrupt cop-turned-timber smuggler Labora Sitorus serves as a high-profile test case of Indonesia's commitment to meaningfully address the root cause of illegal logging – corruption," added Doherty.
"Its conclusion will define the next steps to be taken in the international fight against illegal logging and the ruination of the world's last precious forests."