China's voracious appetite for timber driving illegal trade


China’s insatiable appetite for timber is driving a growing illegal trade that is stripping forests in Africa and Asia and fuelling conflict, underscoring the urgency for Beijing to enact laws to crack down, an environment group said yesterday.

China is the world’s top importer of illegal timber, with the trade worth about $4 billion a year, said the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Globally, Interpol estimates total trade in illegal timber is more than $30 billion.

The EIA released its report 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, says China’s demand for timber has fuelled conflict in Myanmar, Cambodia, 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. In Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch $18,000 per cubic metre and more in neighbouring states, says the EIA.

The EIA estimates China imported at least 18.5 million cubic metres of illegal logs and sawn timber in 2011, worth $3.7 billion. The group said the estimate was conservative. – (Reuters)