The Indonesian Timber Legality Verification Standard: words are not enough

Down to Earth No. 73, May 2007

After a long and tortuous process, the working group given the task of agreeing the final version of Legality Standard for Indonesian Timber has completed its work. What its impact will be on the ground, where Indonesia's forests are disappearing fast, remains to be seen.

The final draft of the Indonesian Timber Legality Verification Standard was officially handed over to the Forestry Department at the beginning of February 2007. The standard, which has taken several years to finalise, is considered by many civil society organisations as a positive achievement. This is because it goes some way to addressing the issue of local community rights - including indigenous peoples' rights - as well as legal recognition for timber produced from community or customary forests, while still being based on existing laws and regulations.

The standard was originally drafted as part of the follow-up to a 2002 agreement between Indonesia and the British government. This was then in effect superseded by the Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT), adopted by the European Union in 2003. Central to the FLEGT plan are the bilateral Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) aimed at preventing illegal timber from producer countries from entering the EU. The legality standard is an essential prerequisite for the VPA, to determine what can and what can't be classed as 'legal' timber, but will also be used as the basis for all Indonesian forestry legislation and agreements to control the illegal trade in logs with other countries. (For further background see DTE 67 and DTE 69 and for more details of Indonesia's VPA negotiations, see

It is not yet clear what legal form the standard will take - whether a presidential or ministerial decree, or a government regulation (PP).

The members of the multi-stakeholder working group on the legality standard (known in Indonesia as the tim kecil)* identified several key issues which needed to be followed up once the legality standard had been completed. These concern the institutions, mechanisms and procedures required for verifying timber legality, as well as for publishing the results of verifications. These issues were also raised at a public consultation held in Jakarta in January. It was agreed by the participants that the institution given the job of implementing the standard should be independent and multi-party and should be given full authority by the government to carry out its mandate. It was also agreed that verification agencies (which must first go through an accreditation process) should work under the implementing institution, and that a dispute resolution institution should also be set up.

Internationally, the legality standard has been widely presented as evidence of Indonesia's good intentions and its efforts to tackle deforestation. At an international meeting on illegal logging at Chatham House in London in late January 2007, for example, the Indonesian government, represented by Dr Hadi Daryanto of the forestry department, sought to convince participants that the finalised standard would be speedily implemented in full, without any watering down of its content.

But progress towards following through the process so that the legality standard can be implemented in the field has been slow. At least three months have been wasted without any significant steps. The only recent development has been a forestry ministry decree to appoint a steering committee with the task of setting up the necessary institutions for implementing the standard. The indications are that differences of opinion within the forestry department - evident earlier in the working group dynamics - have led to obstacles Meanwhile, the reality on the ground is that deforestation caused by destructive logging continues apace: Greenpeace claims that Indonesia deserves to be listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the country with the highest rate of deforestation in the world, with 1.8 million hectares of forest destroyed each year between 2000-2005. This has been denied by forestry minister Kaban, although his predecessor had admitted in 2004 that deforestation was running at 2.5 million hectares per year.

Indonesia and the EU agreed on 8th January 2007 to start formal negotiations on a VPA. Indonesia hopes to conclude the VPA by the end of this year. The first steps towards integrating the new legality standard and associated institutional arrangements with EU requirements took place between EU and Indonesian officials in Jakarta from 29th-30th March. The EU's overall goal is a licencing system that assures European purchasers that imported timber products are the result of legal operations in the partner country. A key element of this scheme is independent third-party monitoring. However, as the all- important EU Briefing Notes are currently drafted, there will be little opportunity for Indonesian CSOs to play any official part in this process.

Discussions between the EU and Indonesia have so far focused on how the EU can push forward the VPA initiative and support 'the positive work' in Indonesia. A five-year ECU 16.7 million FLEGT Support Project initiated by the EU in early 2006, with pilot projects in Jambi and Kalimantan, has already been widely criticised by Indonesian and international NGOs for poor planning, implementation and monitoring.

Nevertheless, members of the European Commission delegation in Jakarta, and European parliamentarians, have expressed the hope that the VPA between Indonesia and the European Union will be a model for other countries in the Southeast and East Asian regions. This underlines the important position of Indonesia and its natural resources. There is hope that the standard can become a tool to reduce the rate of deforestation and to create a precedent of 'good forestry governance' and eventually to build a good reputation for Indonesian forestry. But it will become increasingly clear that without implementation by an independent and credible institution, the achievements of the legality standard will remain nothing more than text and will do nothing to stop forest destruction.

*Note: Yuyun Indradi, of Down to Earth, participated in the tim kecil, as a representative of the indigenous peoples' alliance, AMAN.

(Source: Rancangan Sistem Verifikasi Legalitas Kayu, Tim Kerja Pengembangan dan Perumusan Sistem Verifikasi Legalitas Kayu at; Kompas 16/Mar/07 at; 
Kompas 5/May/07 at 
Reuters 4/May/07 at

Information on the Chatham House 25th January meeting on illegal logging can be seen at A new website, created by FERN in co-operation with local NGOs, is monitoring the FLEGT processes in producer countries - see