Mapping policy actor networks and their interests in the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement in Lao PDR
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CitationRamcilovic-Suominen, Sabaheta. Lovric, Marko. Mustalahti, Irmeli. (2019). Mapping policy actor networks and their interests in the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement in Lao PDR. World development, 118, 128-148. 10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.02.011.
This paper maps the policy actors and their networks in the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan and the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). It analyzes power relations in the FLEGT VPA process, as well as actors’ preferences in relation to a number of policy issues dealt with in the FLEGT VPA. To provide contextual understanding, the paper explores pathways of policy influence along which international actors influence domestic decision-making processes within the FLEGT VPA. We find that in the Lao FLEGT VPA policy process, power is held by the traditionally most powerful policy actors, the central governmental agencies, donor community and international development partners, while the private sector, civil society organizations and actors from subnational levels are substantially less powerful. Strong policy preferences were noted for all aspects of timber legality, except for the legality of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Similarly, strong preferences were observed for considerations of transparency and accountability, while preferences were comparatively weaker for issues concerning i) forest communities' rights to forest and land, ii) livelihood impacts on small-scale operators and family businesses as well as those of forest communities, and iii) the involvement of civil society organizations in the VPA process. The most dominant pathways through which VPA influences domestic policy-making is the direct access to domestic policy-making, followed by the international rules pathway of influence. Based on our analysis, we argue that imbalance in distribution of power and in representation of actors in the VPA policy network may obstruct the intended outcomes and progress on important policy issues, despite the stated policy goals and resources provided by the donor community. This in turn fosters perpetual dominance of the traditionally powerful policy actors, which is likely to lead to further marginalization and disempowerment of the less powerful actors, such as forest communities and informal operators.