Two plantation workers tie logs to load a forest train at the lumber storage yard in Wangqing County of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, China. Photo by China Photos/Getty Images.Two plantation workers at the lumber storage yard in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, China. Photo by Getty Images.

The proportion of timber imports into China and Vietnam that are illegal has fallen since 2000, and now represents under a fifth of the total, according to new research from Chatham House. However, levels remain high compared with other major timber-importers, and both countries could do more to tackle the problem.  

While the proportion has fallen, the actual volume of illegal imports has doubled (from 17 million m3 in 2000 to 35 million m3 a year in 2013), owing to the growth of total imports over the past 14 years. This highlights the challenge both countries face in reducing the amount of illegal timber they import, and the critical role each plays in global timber supply chains.  

Alison Hoare, Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House said: 'China and Vietnam have large wood-processing industries, and consequently, play a crucial role in the global timber trade and in efforts to tackle illegal logging. While both countries have been striving to reduce their imports and consumption of illegal timber, much more remains to be done.' 

China has made more progress than Vietnam, promoting action by its private sector and developing a timber legality system. In contrast, while there has been a marked improvement in the quality and openness of the national debate on illegal logging in Vietnam, there has been little progress on policy reform, and the proportion of illegal timber imports rose between 2009 and 2013. 

Chatham House reports, which are part of a series on 'Indicators of Illegal Logging and Related Trade’, found that:  

  • In 2013, 17% of all wood-based product imports into China and 18% of imports into Vietnam were at high-risk of illegality (down from 26% and 21% respectively in 2000).
  • Russia and Indonesia account for the bulk of China’s high-risk wood-based product imports.
  • Indonesia and Lao PDR are the main sources of such imports into Vietnam.
  • Reflecting these trends in imports, since 2000 the proportion of illegal exports is estimated to have declined in the case of China, while that for Vietnam is considered to have stayed at about the same level.
  • China’s main exports are plywood and panels (exported primarily to the US, the Middle East, EU and Japan), furniture (for the US and EU), and paper (for the US, Middle East, Japan and EU).
  • Vietnam’s main exports are furniture (for which the main markets are the US, Japan and the EU), woodchips (mainly for China) and paper (primarily for the US and Taiwan).
  • In both countries, discrepancies in trade data between importing and exporting countries signal likely fraud and illegality. For example, the data suggests that China continues to be an important market for illegal imports of high-value hardwoods from Southeast Asia and Africa.  

The reports recommend that both Vietnam and China introduce robust legislation to prohibit illegal timber imports.

Editor's notes: 

Read the reports:

Trade in Illegal Timber: The Response in China by Laura Wellesley

Trade in Illegal Timber: The Response in Vietnam by Jade Saunders                    

These findings are part of Chatham House’s 'Indicators of Illegal Logging and Related Trade’ project, which looks at consumer, producer and processing countries. Two more country reports will be published in the coming months and a Synthesis Report will be published in early 2015.      

For more information, please contact Alison Hoare