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China’s wood industry fueled by illegal log imports from rainforest countries

China’s wood industry fueled by illegal log imports from rainforest countries

China’s wood industry fueled by illegal log imports from rainforest countries
February 29, 2008

While China has improved management of its forestry sector, expanding forest plantation cover and banning harvesting of natural forests, China’s recent growth as wood-products exporter is built on timber imports — much of which are illegal — argues a researcher from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in a letter to Science.

Noting that Chinese imports quadrupled over the past decade — from an estimated 12.5 to 45 million cubic meters — Dr. William F. Laurance says much of the growth in China’s timber supplies has come in unprocessed logs from developing countries, which offer relatively economic benefits to timber-exporting nations and are often linked to illegal trade.

“Most logs imported into China are effectively stolen, with no payment of government royalties to exporting nations or environmental control over harvest operations. At least 80% of Chinese timber imports from Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Indonesia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands are illegal, according to recent estimates, with somewhat lower values (50 to 60%) for Malaysia and Russia,” writes Laurance. “Unprocessed logs are easy to acquire and smuggle, and corruption in the log trade is far more prevalent than that for processed forest products.”

Photo by William F. Laurance

Laurance says the illegal timber trade is driving forest degradation and deforestation in the tropics by providing impetus for road building which “increases access to forests for slash-and-burn farmers, hunters, and land speculators that in turn destroy or severely degrade forests and their wildlife.”

Laurance argues that developed countries are playing a key role in the destruction: it is their demand for cheap wood products that is fueling China’s wood products industry. As such, says Laurance, efforts to rein in the illegal timber trade will have to target consumer preferences in wealthy nations.

“Chinese wood products corporations will have little incentive to alter their predatory behavior so long as consumers in wealthy nations blithely continue buying their products,” he concludes.

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