CITES and FAO hold joint workshop in support of the verification of timber legality in the Lower Mekong Region

Verifying the origin of timber destined for export and ensuring its legality is a crucial aspect of trade regulations under CITES. Prior to issuing a CITES export permit, State-appointed Management Authorities must verify that the product was sourced and obtained in accordance with relevant laws and regulations throughout the value chain - in other words, they must ensure it was acquired legally.

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Over 100 representatives from Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam took active part in a two-day online workshop on legal acquisition findings (LAFs) for timber and other wood products in international trade, held on 18 and 19 May 2021.

The workshop was attended by officials from CITES Authorities, Customs, and partner organizations from the five countries of the Lower Mekong region, as well as representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), and members of international NGOs, the private sector and academia.

Participants discussed a range of processes central to verifying the origin of timber products, including concepts such as the burden of proof, chain of custody, due diligence and risk assessment.

They shared their experiences and good practices in making legal acquisition findings for forestry products and discussed the links between CITES and timber legality initiatives, such as the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), for ensuring the legality of timber products in trade. The Lower Mekong Region is home to a number of CITES-listed rosewood and agarwood tree species that are highly sought after for commercial trade.

Although determining the legality of specimen acquisition is critical to the implementation of the Convention, along with the formulation of non-detriment findings (or NDFs), signatory States only established guidance on the subject in 2019, with a resolution passed at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

Most of the countries in the Lower Mekong Region have a general understanding of the LAF requirement but none have published national guidance to ensure that the verification of the legal acquisition is done systematically and in a transparent manner.

Representatives of the five CITES Management Authorities expressed their commitment to improve and further strengthen the processes for the verification of the legal origin of CITES specimens and requested support in doing so.

The workshop was the first in a series organized in the framework of the UN-REDD initiative for Sustainable Forest Trade in the Lower Mekong funded by the Government of Norway, and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The next online workshop will focus on automated CITES permit management and will take place on 25 May 2021.

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For more information, please contact the CITES Secretariat at cites-media [at] un.org.