China’s insatiable appetite for timber is driving a growing illegal trade that is stripping forests in Africa and Asia, and fueling conflict, underscoring the urgency for Beijing to enact laws to crack down, an environmental group said yesterday.
China is the world’s top importer of illegal timber, with the trade worth about US$4 billion a year, London-based non-governmental organization (NGO) the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said.
Globally, Interpol estimates total trade in illegal timber is more than US$30 billion.
The EIA released its report entitled Appetite for Destruction: China’s Trade in Illegal Timber in Beijing to highlight what it said was China’s lack of action, in contrast to major trading partners such as the US.
“China has built a vast wood-processing industry, reliant on imports for most of its raw materials supply. It is in effect exporting deforestation,” the group said in the report.
It said China’s state-owned companies played a major role in securing supplies from overseas. An EIA analysis of China’s trade data for 2007 showed state-owned firms imported nearly half the volume of tropical logs that year.
The EIA, drawing on its own investigations and the work of Interpol, the World Bank and others, said China’s demand for timber has fueled conflict in Myanmar, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, as well as parts of Africa.
China’s booming economy has driven demand for timber for construction. In addition, many of its newly wealthy are splashing out on furniture, including items such as rosewood lounge sets that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with much of the timber sourced illegally from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand or Madagascar.
In Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch US$18,000 per cubic meter and even more in neighboring countries, the EIA said. The trade is fueling clashes between loggers and authorities.
China’s rapidly growing timber imports are underpinning huge growth in exports of furniture, flooring, moldings and paper products. Wood product exports have increased nearly seven-fold in the past decade to US$34.2 billion in 2010, the EIA said.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said yesterday that China was willing to work with the international community to protect forests.
“We resolutely oppose and crack down on the illegal felling of timber and relevant trading behavior,” he said at a daily briefing.
Log imports in 2000 totaled 13.6 million cubic meters worth US$1.6 billion. By last year, imports totaled 42 million cubic meters worth US$8.2 billion, with Russia the top log supplier, the US second and Papua New Guinea third.
“More than half of China’s current supplies of raw timber material are sourced from countries with a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance,” the EIA said.
By contrast, China’s forest cover has increased because of tough forest protection laws and replanting programs.
The EIA estimates China imported at least 18.5 million cubic meters of illegal logs and sawn timber last year, worth US$3.7 billion. The group said the estimate was conservative.
“Such rampant illegal trade is having a dire impact on the forests of Asia-Pacific and local communities. In the Solomon Islands, exports to China are seven times higher than the sustainable logging rate, with forests predicted to be emptied of commercial timber by 2015,” the EIA said.