By Jarryl BryanThe Guyana-European Voluntary Partnership Agreement signed a few months ago is being cited by the Government as the gateway to lifting restrictions on the export of timber to the United Kingdom – restrictions that have been estimated to have cost millions of dollars.Foreign Affairs Minister Carl GreenidgeThis was communicated by Foreign Affairs Minister and acting President Carl Greenidge on Monday. At the time, he was delivering feature remarks at a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development workshop at Cara Lodge.Greenidge said that under the terms of this agreement, Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) certified timber would automatically enter the European Union (EU) market. According to the Minister, this not only means access to the United Kingdom but also to other premium markets.“As it pertains to other matters of standardisation and trade facilitation, the Government of Guyana and particularly Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) have initialled an agreement with the EU in November, 2018 to commence implementation of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement. Under the terms of this agreement, products with FLEGT licences can automatically enter the EU market.Members of the delegation that made Guyana’s case last year, among some officials from the UK“This will allow for Guyana to potentially have access to a wider range of premium markets, especially those that require strong environmental and forest legality compliance. This also sets Guyana apart in a positive way from its counterparts in the timber market,” Greenidge said.But with Brexit, the UK’s exit from the EU, scheduled for this month end, it is unclear how this will impact these plans. Greenidge did acknowledge, however, that much more work remains to be done. He noted that this was only a step toward removing the restrictions.Millions lossAmong the attendees at the workshop was Executive member of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Ramesh Dookhoo. Speaking to Guyana Times in an exclusive interview afterwards, Dookhoo noted that the local Private Sector has been paying keen attention to the issue and was hopeful.Dookhoo estimated that exporters of lumber lost millions of US dollars as a result of the ban. He noted, however, that such exporters were likely to have taken steps to ramp up exports to other markets to alleviate their losses.“The requirements are harsh. They are claiming environmental standards. It’s really a barrier… hopefully, whichever way Brexit goes, England is going to follow that. Or we’re going to just have to keep working on resolving the matter.“I think that we’ve lost about two or three million US in England, but I think also that is being made up by exporting greenheart to other countries that do not have that harsh requirement,” Dookhoo said.The export of timber to the UK was restricted in part over concerns about sustainable loggingIntercessionsAs recent as November of last year, a Guyanese delegation in the UK went to the UK Environment Agency (EA) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to make Guyana’s case for the lifting of the greenheart import ban.The delegation, which included GFC’s Chairman Joslyn Dow; EU-FLEGT Secretariat Head, Kenny David; GFC Deputy Commissioner Andrew Mendez, of McVantahe Inc, made a combined presentation to Andy Powell of the EA and Clare Marsden of DEFRA.The presentation focused on the many accomplishments of Guyana with regard to sustainable forest practices, and the key impacts the restrictions have had on the industry and the country as a whole. It also focused on the current code of practice and the maintenance of Guyana’s biodiversity.After the presentation, the delegation then sought clarification from the EA and DEFRA representatives on whether or not the FLEGT certification which will be given to Guyana in about five to six years will be accepted for Category B timber since the UK only accepted Category A Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) 100 per cent greenheart from Iwokrama as of 2016.They also challenged the EA’s stance on offering support to the country in getting FSC certification, since only this is accepted but it is costly. Further, they asked what could be done between now and the time FLEGT certification started, to restore trade between the two countries.The greenheart restrictions were introduced by the EA in the UK in 2015. Then it was claimed that proof of sustainable sourcing of the forest product was inadequate, and this has since resulted in a drastic decrease in export of the product to the UK. In December 2016, the EA relaxed the restrictions on greenheart, but only began to accept Category A FSC 100 per cent greenheart from Iwokrama.