Chinese imports 'threaten world's forests'

Posted: 7 March 2005

Because of its rapidly rising demand for wood, China is set to lead the world's wood market, with devastating impacts on some of the planet's outstanding forests unless major changes are made in the country's current policies, conservationists warn.

According to a report on China's Wood Market, Trade and the Environment, issued by WWF, more than half of the timber imported by China comes from countries such as Russia, Malaysia and Indonesia, which are all struggling with problems such as over-harvesting, conversion of natural forests and illegal logging. China is one of the major destinations for wood that may be illegally harvested or traded, it says.

The report indicates that while the average Chinese citizen uses 17 times less wood than a person in the United States, China's wood imports have dramatically increased over the past ten years and will continue to do so to meet the demand of the country's huge population and rapid economic growth.

The report also found that measures taken by the Chinese government to protect its forests - including a ban on logging - after the 1998 devastating Yangtze River flooding have resulted in a significant drop in China's domestic wood production. The country's forests and plantations will provide less than half of China's expected total industrial wood demand by 2010, and this puts more pressure on the forests of the countries that export timber, the report stresses.

"China's efforts so far in forest restoration and forest sustainable management are a good start towards preserving valuable and threatened forests," said Dr Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International. "But logging bans in China should not lead to forest loss in other parts of the world. Decisive action is needed to ensure that supply chains leading to or through China begin with well-managed forests."

Forest certificates

WWF believes that China's demand for wood from regions where forest management is poor could be reduced by developing environmentally responsible wood production in some of the country's forests where logging is currently banned. The report also suggests that incentives are created to improve the efficiency of wood production and use in China, and reduce the waste of timber.

Furthermore, WWF calls on both governments and the private sector to take concerted measures to promote imports and purchases of wood from well-managed forests. Such measures include responsible procurement policies, use of systems to trace wood from its source to final use, forest certification, enforcement of government policies and regulations to prevent the import of products containing illegally-sourced wood, and cooperation with other nations to combat illegal trade of forest products.

"China will soon be leading the global wood market, we hope that it will also lead the efforts to safeguard the world's forests," said Dr. Zhu Chunquan, Director of WWF China's Forest Programme.

The new WWF report was released today in Hong Kong at a meeting on illegal logging organized by The Forests Dialogue, a forum for trade associations, major corporations and government officials, among others. The China Forest and Trade Network (FTN) was also launched at that event, as part of a global WWF initiative to facilitate market links between companies committed to responsible forestry and purchasing of forest products.

Related links:

Read the report here

For more on WWF's efforts to eliminate illegal logging see: WWF

See also: Malaysian timber laundering racket exposed