On October 1, 2021, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced that the United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Vietnam) reached an agreement resolving the Section 301 investigation into Vietnam’s alleged import and use of timber illegally harvested or traded. The investigation was initiated in October 2020 by former President Donald Trump. See Updates of October 6, 2020 and November 25, 2020. In the investigation, the Office of the USTR alleged that Vietnam relies on imports of timber harvested in other countries and that the “evidence suggests that a significant portion of that imported timber was illegally harvested or traded (illegal timber). Some of that timber may be from species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).” According to a USTR press release, the agreement reached between the United States and Vietnam “secures commitments that will help keep illegally harvested or traded timber out of the supply chain and protect the environment and natural resources.” While Ambassador Katherine Tai, the USTR, indicated that no trade action will occur, the USTR will monitor Vietnam’s implementation of the agreement.
The Agreement between the Governments of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the United States of America on Illegal Logging and Timber Trade (the Agreement) contains multiple commitments on issues related to illegal timber, including:
- Vietnam’s treatment of confiscated timber.
- Financial incentives related to illegal timber.
- Customs inspections and clearance.
- Entities covered by Vietnam’s timber legality assurance system.
- The criteria used to classify a third country as a “positive geographical area exporting timber to Vietnam.”
- The verification of domestically harvested timber.
- The implementation of certain licensing schemes.
- Cooperation with the governments of third-country sources of imported timber.
- Illegal timber activities in third countries or involving third-country nationals.
- Verification and enforcement measures.
- Cooperation between the parties’ respective law enforcement agencies to combat the harvest and trade of illegal timber.
- Creation of a timber working group under the U.S.-Vietnam Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Council.
- Public information and participation on matters related to the implementation of the Agreement.
- Cooperation on technical assistance and initiatives to promote sustainable forest management and to combat illegal logging and associated trade.
According to the Office of the USTR, this was the first Section 301 investigation to address environmental concerns. The Agreement notes that both countries agree “on the importance of the conservation and sustainable management of forests for providing environmental, economic, and social benefits for present and future generations, and the critical role of forests in providing numerous ecosystem services and habitat for wild fauna and flora.” The Agreement establishes various deadlines for Vietnam to implement programs and processes to address the treatment of illegal timber and to keep it out of the supply chain. Further, both countries’ law enforcement agencies will cooperate to combat the harvest and trade of illegal timber.