Over the last 25 years, the global area of certified forests has grown rapidly and voluntary forest certification has become recognized as an effective tool to engage international markets in improving sustainability within forest management units. However, the bulk of this growth has occurred in North America, Northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, with relatively limited uptake in the tropics. Since its creation, forest certification has been largely understood as a “market-based” mechanism, in contrast to government-led policies and regulations. Through the experience of the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) partnership in the Asia Pacific region, we find that the framing of forest certification as voluntary and market-based, and as a mechanism to overcome governance failure, has created an artificial dichotomy. In this dichotomy, voluntary certification and regulatory measures to promote sustainable forest management are conceived of and pursued largely independently. We argue that it is more constructive to view them as complementary approaches that share a common goal of increasing sustainability across the forestry sector. In practice, forest certification interacts with conventional governance institutions and mechanisms. Understanding these interactions and their implications, as well as additional possibilities for interaction, will help in realizing the full potential of forest certification.
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