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Group Presses China Wood Industries Over Illegal Logging

  • Claudia Blume

China has become a leading exporter of furniture, plywood and wood flooring. But environmental activists say the industry's need for raw timber is contributing to tropical forest destruction. As Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong, one group is calling for international pressure on Chinese producers to use sustainable sources of wood.

China's rapidly expanding wood product industry relies heavily on imported raw materials, mainly from Russia, Southeast Asia and Central Africa. Environmental groups say China's massive appetite for raw timber is accelerating illegal and destructive logging in those countries.

Matthew Brady, China program manager for the charity Tropical Forest Trust, says a large part of the timber China imports is from illegal sources.

"Forty percent of what comes from Russia is illegal," he said. "There have been other reports that say almost everything that comes from Papua New Guinea and Myanmar [Burma] is illegal."

The environmental organization Greenpeace says half of all tropical trees logged globally end up in China. The group says much of this wood comes from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where up to 90 percent of the logging is illegal.

Brady says Chinese producers need incentives to stop buying from illegal sources. He says buyers of Chinese wood products in Europe, Japan and the United States should reward those firms that use raw materials from legal and sustainable sources.

"They [buyers] are the ones who are eventually going to drive the demand for legality. Because if the market says you've got to be legal - and we want to pay a price premium for it, then the manufacturers respond," he said.

Brady says the key is to pair market incentives with technical assistance. His group is helping Chinese companies establish direct links with timber suppliers that will provide only legal products.

He says one of the main problems is that supply chains are often so long and opaque that the origin of wood is at times difficult to verify.

Brady says there can be up to ten transactions between the time a tree is cut until it arrives at a Chinese factory - involving loggers, middlemen, traders and others.

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