China takes a greener perspective

China is taking a keen interest in environmental timber legislation worldwide, as well as pushing on with its own legality and sustainability strategies, writes Gao Ya, Director of International Exchange and Cooperation at the China Timber and Wood Products Distribution Association.

“It is important to underline that illegal logging is not the only, or in fact the main driver of deforestation. Currently, the number one cause is conversion for agriculture, plantations and urban development. Having said that, if implemented effectively, the increasing amount of timber legality regulation in wood consuming markets, such as the US, EU and Australia, will help halt the proportion of forest degradation attributable to illegal logging and trading. It should also benefit the legitimate wood industry, by preventing over-exploitation of the forests and leveling the playing field against illegal competition.

While supporting their aims, China’s wood industry is also impacted by such measures as the EU Timber Regulation, US Lacey Act and Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition, since they result in buyers requesting additional legality documentation. So naturally Chinese businesses are interested in learning more, although, in my experience, their preferred focus is how to meet customers’ specific proof of legality requirements, rather than the regulation detail. 

China’s State Forest Administration is also studying the option of our own national Legality Verification Scheme. As a trade association, we are following this closely to ensure the industry perspective is taken into account.

Greater coordination between different timber legality regulation worldwide would no doubt help the industry, but is difficult to achieve, given the different legal context in each country. Where there might be scope for greater alignment, however, is in the tools and mechanisms for meeting their requirements. After all, the ‘due care’ to avoid illegal timber demanded by the US Lacey Act is very similar to the ‘due diligence’ the EUTR requires.            

China has agreed a Bilateral Coordination Mechanism on the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade programme (FLEGT) with the EU. We also now see FLEGT licensed timber, having value in the Chinese market, when it becomes available,. The legality of our domestically produced timber is undisputed, but when the international markets request additional proof of legality for imported timber from certain countries, a FLEGT license should help.       

China is also focused on helping supplier countries improve forestry management standards on the ground. More can perhaps be done in this field, but our Ministry of Commerce and State Forest Administration has issued two voluntary guidelines for Chinese enterprises operating overseas to promote sustainable practices in forest cultivation, management and utilization.    

China has guidelines on overseas forest management

Meanwhile, sustainability certification is building momentum in the Chinese timber sector faster than legality verification, and that is likely to continue due to the international popularity of the FSC and PEFC schemes. Currently the FSC is the biggest in China, with 2.5 million ha of forests covered and 2,356 FSC chain of custody certificates issued by January 2013.

The PEFC has so far lagged behind, but that is expected to change once it endorses the Chinese Forest Certification Scheme (CFCS).In fact, this is expected to lead to greater impetus for certification overall, with the international and Chinese schemes reinforcing each other in the Chinese market.  

What would help in all these areas is greater international dialogue and liaison.  And we believe the new Global Timber Forum could potentially play an important role in encouraging this; promoting communication not only on legality and sustainability, but all kinds of policy, trade and technical issues that affect the international wood trade and the general competitiveness of timber.”