Research Associate, Energy, Environment and Resources

Although the Chinese government and private sector have taken action to tackle illegal logging and associated trade, there is evidence to suggest illegal trade remains a significant problem.

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.

This paper is part of a broader Chatham House study which assesses illegal logging and the associated trade. The Chinese government has made notable progress in its efforts to tackle illegal logging and the associated trade. This has included the development of a draft national timber legality verification system (TLVS) and its active engagement with a number of consumer countries. The government’s plans to establish bilateral trade agreements with producer countries are also encouraging, although no formalized commitments have yet been made. Reflecting the growing awareness of the impact of Chinese companies overseas, the government has also been developing further guidance to promote sustainable forest products trade and investment.

The private sector is also taking action, with continued growth in the uptake of chain-of-custody (CoC) certification. Industry associations have been promoting legal and sustainable sourcing, and they will have an important role to play in testing the draft TLVS.

These steps are likely to have had an impact on the volume of illegal wood-based products being imported into China. However, trade data discrepancies and analysis of trade flows both indicate that illegal trade remains a significant problem. While imports of high-risk products are estimated to have declined since 2000, these are reckoned to comprise 17 per cent of the total by volume in 2013. This proportion is high compared with other timber-importing countries examined in this assessment.

In order to build on its response to illegal logging and related trade, the Chinese government should establish binding regulations and stringent controls on the import and export of illegal wood-based products. The draft TLVS should be further developed, including through pilot projects with timber-exporting countries and effective consultation with industry, civil society and other consumer-country governments. The government’s procurement policy should be strengthened through the clarification of its legality and sustainability requirements, the inclusion of a wider range of products within its scope, and the development of a robust mechanism to monitor compliance. 

Increased training for the private sector on due diligence, market regulations and legality requirements in consumer countries is required to stimulate further action by industry, and the work to elaborate further guidelines for companies operating overseas in the forest products trade should be continued. Awareness-raising initiatives for Chinese consumers should also be extended, in order to increase demand for verified legal wood-based products.