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Japan depletes Borneo’s rainforests; China remains largest log importer

Japan depletes Borneo’s rainforests; China remains largest log importer

Japan depletes Borneo’s rainforests; China remains largest log importer
July 10, 2006

Almost three quarters of Japan’s tropical timber imports come from the endangered rainforests of Borneo according to figures from the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), an industry group. Meanwhile, ITTO says that China remains, by a large margin, the largest consumer of tropical logs.

The findings are published in the 16-30 June 2006 edition of Tropical Timber Market Report, a bi-monthly publication, put out by the ITTO.

While imports of tropical logs stabilized at 7.3 million cubic meters between 2004 and 2005 due to supply constraints, China still imports more than twice the volume of tropical logs as India, the second largest importer on the list. The ITTO says that “China’s tropical log imports, which accounted for almost half of total ITTO imports in 2004-2005, have almost tripled since the mid-1990s,” with Malaysia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Gabon, Myanmar and the Republic of Congo the main sources for its tropical wood.

China imports even more timber from non-tropical countries, with Russia being by far the largest supplier. In total, China imported some 26 million cubic meters of logs in 2005, unchanged from 2004 but still exceeding those of all other countries, according to the ITTO, which says that the country’s “growing economy, a continuing ban on domestic harvesting and a zero tariff on log imports continue to drive total imports upwards.”

Felled canopy tree in the rainforest of Gabon (top), logs waiting processing or shipping in Port Gentil, Gabon (bottom). Photos by Rhett A. Butler

At just over 3 million cubic meters, India’s tropical log imports were also mostly flat between 2004 and 2005. Most of India’s logs come from Malaysia and Myanmar, but ITTO says African log imports are becoming increasingly important.

Japan is the third largest importer of tropical logs after China and India. 74 percent of tropical logs brought into Japan come from Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. Sawarak has seen a rapid decline in its forest cover since the 1980s, raising the ire of environmental groups and causing the Malaysian government to recently announce it would phase out logging in some areas. About 20 percent of Japan’s tropical logs originate in Papua New Guinea which neighbors the Indonesian province of Papua, where a recent expedition uncovered a trove of undiscovered species.

Eastern Europe tropical log imports now exceed that of EU countries which brought in just over 1.3 million cubic meters of tropical logs in 2004, down 2 percent from 2003. At 550,000 cubic meters in 2005, France is Europe’s largest consumer of tropical logs.

Elsewhere in the world, Thailand is a significant importer of tropical timber with reported imports climbing 18 percent to 450 000 cubic meters in 2005.

Globally, tropical deforestation rates have climbed by 8.5 percent from 2000-2005 when compared with the 1990s. Losses of primary forests expanded by almost 24 percent over the same period according to analysis of figures provided by the UN.

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