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Lynx Global asks; what's China's role in promoting global forest governance and combating deforestation?
July 5th, 2023

Over the past 20 years, demand for timber products in China has soared as incomes have risen. Two years after 1998’s devastating floods, China launched its Natural Forest Protection Programme to protect the headwaters of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, which became a full logging ban on all natural forests in 2017. To meet rising demand for timber, China’s domestic production grew 50%, sourced mainly from new plantation forests. 

Meanwhile, timber imports overtook domestic production in 2014 and swelled to nearly 300 million cubic metres of forest products (roundwood equivalent – RWE) in 2018. China is now the world’s largest timber importer – mainly in the form of unprocessed logs, sawnwood and wood chips. About two-thirds of the world’s tropical logs were exported to China in 2018. 

China is also the world’s largest exporter of wood furniture and wood-based panels (plywood in particular). The US is China’s largest export market, followed by the EU (including UK), Japan, Australia and South Korea. Since 2008, China’s major timber export markets have introduced regulations to ensure only timber from legal sources can enter their markets. China’s domestic market for timber products is now huge compared to the export market. However, the concern is that while export markets demand certified timber, domestic markets do not. This issue needs to be addressed through a mix of regulations and incentives.

China's role in the international timber market has changed fundamentally in the last ten years. Up until the late 2000s, China was a major producer and exporter of timber products, with a focus on meeting the legality standards of the EU and US markets. With the growth of domestic timber consumption, China's measures to combat illegal logging abroad will play a crucial role in improving global forest policy.

On July 1, 2020, Article 65 of the newly revised Chinese Forest Law came into effect. It clearly states: “Wood processing companies should keep accounts of the incoming and outgoing raw materials and products. No entity or individual shall purchase, process or transport timber clearly known to have been illegally or indiscriminately logged in forest areas.”

After joining the WTO in 2001, China significantly reduced import tariffs on timber products. China's main timber export markets have adopted measures to combat illegal logging, including the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan in 2003, the 2008 amendment to the US Lacey Act and the EU Timber Trade Regulation in 2013. China also signed sustainable forest policy agreements with the US, EU, UK, Japan, Australia, Indonesia and others.

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