China emerges as main threat to Asian forests: Illegal logging for cheap plywood, furniture is destroying old-growth tracts

GEOFFREY YORK – The Globe and Mail

Friday, October 21, 2005 Page A20
Copyright The Globe and Mail
BEIJING — The world’s last remaining rain forests and old-growth
forests are being rapidly destroyed by illegal loggers to feed the
voracious appetites of Chinese plywood and furniture exporters, two new
reports have warned.
In just the past few years, China has emerged as the biggest threat to
the planet’s tropical rain forests, consuming nearly 50 per cent of all
timber logged in threatened rain forests around the world, according to
a report by Greenpeace this week.
The second report, by the London-based environmental watchdog Global
Witness, documents how illegal logging for the Chinese market is
decimating the old-growth forests of northern Myanmar, one of the most
bio-diverse regions on earth.
Last year alone, the report said, more than a million cubic metres of
timber, worth more than $250-million ( U.S.), were illegally exported to
China from the endangered forests in Myanmar (also known as Burma),
where more than 100 Chinese logging companies with 20,000 employees
have already devastated most of the old-growth forests closest to the
Chinese border.
“Large tracts of forest adjacent to the China-Burma border have been
almost entirely logged out,” the report said. “As a result, Chinese
logging companies have had to move deeper into Kachin State [northern
Myanmar] to source their timber.”
The illicit plunder of these forests is occurring with the “full
knowledge” of the governments of China and Myanmar, which have allowed
the trade to increase by 60 per cent in the past four years, the report
said. On average, Chinese customs officials allow a 15-tonne truckload
of illegally logged timber to cross the border from Myanmar every seven
minutes, every day of the year, it said.
The timber trade was confirmed last year by a reporter who saw dozens
of Chinese logging trucks in northern Myanmar, along with big
stockpiles of timber. The Chinese truck drivers openly acknowledged
that they were transporting the timber to China.
About half of China’s timber imports are illegal, supplied by companies
that far exceed the limits on their licences, and most of this illicit
trade is fuelled by demand from Western countries that buy cheap
plywood and furniture from China, the Global Witness report said.
China’s demand for Asian timber has skyrocketed since 1998, when it
imposed a national ban on logging because of the disastrous increase in
soil erosion and flooding in heavily logged regions.
The Greenpeace report documents how China is importing illegal timber
from threatened rain forests in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia,
Gabon and other countries. “China is by far the largest importer of
rain-forest destruction in the world,” Phil Aikman, a Greenpeace
researcher, said in a statement this week.
In the space of just six years, China has become the world’s biggest
plywood producer and exporter, the report said. Its exports soared from
less than a million cubic metres of plywood in 1998 to almost 11
million cubic metres in 2004. In the same period, China has replaced
the United States as the world’s biggest importer of timber.

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