International Policy

Table of Contents:


International and national government policy on the management of forests is a subject of lively debate in most countries of the world. Forest policy dialogue is far-reaching. Effective policy at the global level can raise the profile of and public awareness of forest issues; consolidate gains at the national and regional levels; help transfer knowledge, experiences, and resources among parties; and provide a strong context for practical actions. The topics under discussion mirror concerns in countries and on the ground, and include sustainable forest management, trade issues, economic growth in underdeveloped areas, land tenure and rights, national security, biodiversity, and land use. Reflected in this dialogue is a range of perspectives on how a forest's many values and benefits should be used, conserved and protected. The debate reflects the breadth of stakeholders' interests--often a challenge in trying to reach a consensus position.

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Where Does International Policy Dialogue Occur?

International forest policy dialogue, formal discussions or negotiations can take place between two countries (bilateral) or among three or more countries (multilateral), and may sometimes involve international organizations or stakeholders. Bilateral dialogue between two countries results in joint action and assistance, including technical cooperation, to advance common interests. To learn more about bilateral technical cooperation programs administered by the Forest Service International Programs Technical Cooperation Unit, you may click here. There are a number of international fora in which multilateral negotiations take place. As with bilateral relations, multilateral discussions may lead to agreements, joint initiatives, and financial or technical assistance. When bilateral or multilateral negotiations reach a consensus, their agreement will be either binding, with a legal basis, or non-binding, with the weight of political commitment but not international law. For a listing of future dates for selected forest-related multilateral meetings, please click here.

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How Do Policies Get Implemented?

Once countries have reached agreement on a certain topic, such as an aspect of sustainable forest management, there are a number of tools that can be used to influence regional and domestic forest policy in order to implement the agreement. Policy tools commonly used to advance sustainable forest management include criteria and indicators, reduced impact logging, certification, financial incentives, trade, concession management, illegal logging, and the clean development mechanism. To learn more about some of these policy topics and tools, click here.

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Who Is Engaged in the International Policy Dialogue?

Governments are the major players in international policy dialogue. Country governments are represented at international discussions and negotiations by designated agencies, typically diplomatic and/or technical agencies. Government representatives negotiate formal agreements in multi-party settings. In addition, they may work government-to-government to build support for bilateral or multilateral policy work in their countries, through international negotiations, additional consultations, and/or technical assistance.

For the U.S., the Department of Agriculture, U.S. State Department, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of the Interior serve as

Other domestic and international organizations also are involved in consultations and development of U.S. positions and international policy. State and local governments, domestic non-governmental organizations, industry groups, and other associations provide input on U.S. stakeholders interests for the formulation of U.S. positions. Domestic and international organizations also attend international meetings to monitor and participate in policy discussions. Within the United Nations, these interests are often represented by the Major Groups, which constitute the major segments of civil society: women, children and youth, indigenous people, non-governmental organizations, local communities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, scientific and technological communities, and farmers.

A number of inter-governmental and non-governmental international institutions are important contributors to the international policy dialogue on natural resources and forests. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Bank, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) are just a few of the organizations that monitor and contribute to policy discussion and formulation.

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The Role of Forest Service International Programs

The International Programs Policy Team aims to inform and influence people and organizations in the decisions they take that affect the world’s forests. We serve as agency ambassadors to promote good management and conservation domestically and overseas. The Forest Service brings forestry leadership and expertise to policy and decision-making venues and fosters stakeholder involvement. International Programs helps agency leaders, stakeholders and technical experts to participate effectively in meetings, conferences, and international negotiations. We work actively with other country governments but also shape forestry-related activities of international institutions.

The Policy Team is responsible for tracking and responding in the international arena to current and emerging issues, both to advance sustainable forest management policy and biodiversity conservation, and to translate policy into effective on-the-ground action in the US and elsewhere. Key issues include: criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management, forest products trade, certification, financing, reduced impact logging, protected area management, concession management, illegal logging, and domestic linkages.

If you would like to contact one of our staff members, please click here.

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Policy Development

The policy staff of Forest Service International Programs works to ensure that the international forest policy positions taken by the United States reflect the best interests of the world's forests and the United States forestry community.

International Programs taps the expertise of the agency to analyze technical and programmatic elements of U.S. positions and ensure that they are consistent with current research, management approaches, and legislative guidelines. International Programs bridges knowledge between our agency staff (and other domestic partners) and international partners, helping to inform both groups of trends and experiences that can improve forest management.

In addition to working within the Forest Service, International Programs collaborates with other U.S. Government agencies such as the U.S. Department of State, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of the Interior. In collaboration with these agencies, International Programs helps formulate coherent U.S. positions for international discussions and strengthen the performance of country delegations composed of representatives from various agencies and organizations

We also work closely with environmental non-governmental organizations, forest industry, the National Association of State Foresters, the Society of American Foresters, and many others. Partnerships with these groups keep IP informed of the work, interests, and concerns of domestic stakeholders and keep U.S. positions grounded in constructive, realistic approaches.

In the international arena, International Programs collaborates with a number of important international forest-related institutions, such at the World Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the International Union for Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO ). Relationships with these key institutions allow the Forest Service to provide valuable technical and policy analysis and keep IP abreast of policy and project initiatives in these organizations and at the regional and country levels.

Through international work with partner organizations, attendance at key international meetings, direct communication on policy initiatives, and technical assistance, Forest Service International Programs builds relations with key countries around the world. The Policy Team facilitates the exchange of experiences and lessons learned so that two-way learning between domestic and international partners can highlight successes and challenges and lead to improved forest management both in the United States and elsewhere.

If you would like to view some of our other partners in policy, please click here.

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Policy to Action, At Home and Abroad

The International Programs Policy Team works with a variety of international organizations to track emerging issues and policy developments around the world and to promote programs and actions that lead to successful implementation. A key aspect of our work is to translate sound policy into effective actions on the ground. We tap into the expertise of the Forest Service and varied partners to design and promote practical initiatives for sustainable forest management. Several efforts are highlighted below.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is one of our longest-standing collaborators, with a decades-long relationship with the Forest Service. The Forest Service is the lead agency at the FAO’s biennial Committee on Forestry (COFO) meetings, representing U.S. interests in advising the FAO on priority programmatic and budgetary issues for its work. On implementation, the Forest Service is currently working with FAO and interested countries on agreements to strengthen international cooperation for fire management and suppression. The United States is also a member of several of FAO’s regional forest commissions—the North American Forest Commission, the Latin American and Caribbean Forest Commission, and the Asia Pacific Forest Commission—and an observer to other regional commissions such as the European Forestry Commission. In Asia and Latin America, International Programs participates in regional forest commission meetings to track policy discussions and provide input as needed. Through its Technical Cooperation Unit, International Programs works with the North American Forest Commission (NAFC) on a variety of research and capacity-building projects related, among other things, to fire management, protected areas, silviculture, and forest health.

The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) is an intergovernmental organization that promotes the conservation and sustainable management, use and trade of tropical forest resources. The U.S., as a significant trade partner, is one of the 59 members of the organization, contributing important financial and technical support. Through International Programs’ Policy Team, the Forest Service provides technical guidance in the review of project proposals for funding by ITTO, supplying input on issues--as diverse as forest management planning, criteria and indicators, community forestry, reduced impact logging, forest fire management, forest law enforcement, biodiversity conservation, and forest restoration—to improve project design and implementation—as well as guiding the programmatic work of the organization. The Technical Cooperation Unit of International Programs collaborates with a number of partners on-the-ground in implementing projects under ITTO.

International Programs also works actively with the World Conservation Union (IUCN), a wide-ranging network of governments and organizations that aim to influence and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. In the context of IUCN’s forest conservation program focused on “livelihoods and landscapes”, the U.S. works with the organization’s members to design capacity-building and information-sharing workshops on relevant topics. For instance, the Forest Service provided financial support and technical experts for a workshop on forest landscape restoration, held in Brazil in April 2005, and International Programs remains involved in follow-on cooperation through the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration.

The Policy Team is engaged in many other emerging issues in the international arena, working to link global dialogue, policy development, and progress on the ground towards sustainable forest management. For more information on other important topics and initiatives, please click here.

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Topics & Tools

Translating international policy dialogue into results in the forest requires both political and organizational commitment, as well as the use of creative tools and approaches.


The Policy Unit of the US Forest Service International Programs collaborates with a number of domestic and international partners to develop international policy positions on a variety of forest and natural resource related topics. The following list, while not comprehensive, is illustrative of the broad range of knowledge and expertise available to inform the international policy dialogue.

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