Environmental group Greenpeace said on Tuesday China should take responsibility for illegal hardwood logging in Southeast Asia which supplied the raw materials for Chinese exports to the West.
BEIJING -- Environmental group Greenpeace said on Tuesday China should take responsibility for illegal hardwood logging in Southeast Asia which supplied the raw materials for Chinese exports to the West.
Greenpeace's China office said China's timber industry was complicit in the illegal felling of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea's merbau trees, with logs then smuggled to China and processed and exported as floorboards and high-end furnishings to the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe.
"We are arguing that both Indonesia and Papua New Guinea bear responsibility to tighten (curbs on illegal logging and manufacture) within their own countries, but so too does China, as a major recipient of the wood, and the Chinese industry for being complicit in allowing the smuggling to occur," said Greenpeace China forest campaign manager Tamara Stark.
Greenpeace said smugglers were importing banned Indonesian merbau into China using forged Malaysian documentation, and were taking logs from illegal forest concessions in Papua New Guinea.
"Almost all of the (Chinese) traders readily admit that they know this wood is illegal and is being smuggled in but because it's commanding such a high price in the international market, they're willing to proceed and take the risks," Stark told reporters.
"China is by far the largest market for merbau. It's a highly prized and endangered tropical hardwood. The reality is, it's also international trade that's fuelling the destruction of these forests."
Merbau is a resilient red hardwood, one of the most valuable in Southeast Asia.
Stark said China had failed to deploy enough resources to stop illegal log smuggling.
"The central government position is strong ... But it's an issue of governance on a provincial basis ... There are far too few staff assigned," she said.
China's Foreign Ministry brushed away accusations that the country's demand for timber was hastening the destruction of Southeast Asian forests.
"China has a strict system of supervision and management of its timber and timber product imports," ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular press briefing on Tuesday.
"As a large importer and exporter of timber and timber products, China places a high level of importance on cooperating with timber-producing countries to develop forest resources according to principles of mutual benefit and long-term sustainable development," Liu said.
Left unchecked, the logging of merbau wood, priced at over $600 per cubic metre (35 cubic feet), would lead to the "destruction of an entire eco-system", Stark said.
"In many cases, only one to five merbau trees are found per hectare ... The challenge is, the logging industry is only interested in the merbau, but they have to clear huge swathes at the forest to get to those few trees."
Greenpeace said merbau forests would be wiped out within 35 years if the current rate of legal logging was sustained, but illegal logging would lead to their extinction "much sooner".
In October, the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) flagged trade restrictions on Southeast Asian merbau because of rapid depletion.
China, whose own forest cover has nearly doubled in 50 years to 18 percent today according to forestry officials, is regularly accused by environmental groups of plundering forests in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia, and of being at the heart of a global trade in illegal timber sold to Western markets.