Reports by environmentalists in the past few weeks have highlighted China's role in the destruction of tropical forests in Asia and Africa.

Import of wood products from China by the United States and the European Union have increased almost nine fold since 1998, according to a report published on Frday by US-based Forest Trends and the Center for International Forestry Research.

At the same time, China has become the world's leading importer of wood from tropical, developing countries such as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea where illegal logging is common, the report said.

About 70% of all timber imported by China is converted into products for export and the country has captured one-third of the global trade in furniture over the last eight years.

“It is clear that China is in the middle of a global commodity chain, feeding consumption by consumers in the US and EU who are demanding low-priced forest products” 

Michael Jenkins,
President, Forest Trends

"Few consumers realize that the cheap prices they pay are directly linked to the exploitation of some of the poorest people on Earth and the destruction of their forests," said Andy White, the lead author of the report.

The report found, for example, that a local community in Papua received $11 a cubic metre of hardwood. But once it reaches China, it is worth $240 and increased as much as 10 times more once it reaches markets in the West and Japan.

Similar disparities were found from logs being cut in Russia and exported to China, the report said.

"It is clear that China is in the middle of a global commodity chain, feeding consumption by consumers in the US and EU who are demanding low-priced forest products," said Michael Jenkins, President of Forest Trends.

Earlier this month, another Forest Trends report said that illegal timber from Papua New Guinea was ending up in China as well as Japan and South Korea.

Global Witness, another environmental group, has also made similar charges about illegal timber from Myanmar (Burma) ending up in China.

Hundreds of logs await shipment on the Lamandau River near Borneo's Tanjung Puting National Park

Indonesian snippet

- Indonesia has already lost about 65% of its ancient forests.

- Illegal logging and corruption within the logging industry remains widespread.

- An estimated 70% of raw timber supplying the country's wood processing industry is logged illegally.

- The World Bank has warned that some of the richest areas of the forests will disappear in three to ten years unless government action is taken to halt the rampant destruction.

Global Witness said during February it recorded at least 150 loaded log trucks crossing into China from Myanmar every night.

The group said the cross-border trade now stands at more than 1.5 million cubic metres per year with an estimated value of approximately $350 million. Almost all of these exports are illegal.

The Forest Trends report wants the Chinese government to implement policies requiring all government contracts to purchase only verifiable legally produced and traded wood products - starting with a pilot programme to ensure legal sourcing related to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"China is now promising to halt all illegal timber imports from Burma. After a decade of inaction, this represents a welcome, if overdue, first step," said Mike Davis of Global Witness. "We look forward to prompt and demonstrable implementation. We also hope that this is the start of a wider effort by the Chinese authorities to remove all illegal timber from China’s supply chain."

The Chinese government has publicly stated that it will "firmly crack down on illegal deforestation and illegal imports", adding that "China enforces rigid control over imports" and that it "will impose tough countermeasures" to curb the illegal cross-border timber trade.