The great sucking sound continues. China’s astonishing economic growth has given the country an apparently unquenchable thirst for oil, minerals, and – you guessed it – forest products. Ten years ago, China was the seventh largest importer of forest products. Today it is the second. That has provided new opportunities for many exporters, but it has also fueled illegal logging and forest destruction.
The entire process gets close scrutiny in “Meeting China’s Demand for Forest Products”, produced by Xiufang Sun, Eugenia Katsigris, and Andy White for Forest Trends, the Chinese Center for Agricultural Policy, and CIFOR. As the Chinese become richer they build additional houses and buy more books and newspapers. They have also been exporting a lot more finished wood-based products such as furniture. Meanwhile, China has stopped logging many of its own forests to protect them. It has closed down thousands of small factories that made paper from straw because they polluted the rivers. Timber, lumber, and pulp imports have skyrocketed as a result.
Between 1997 and 2002, Chinese forest product imports rose 75%, from US$6.4 billion to $11.2. Preliminary figures suggest they reached almost US $13 billion in 2003. Export volumes rose even faster. By 2002, the country was importing the equivalent of 95 million cubic meters of wood. That is about one and a half times Indonesia’s total annual timber harvest.
The Chinese prefer to import raw materials and do the processing themselves. So they are importing more logs and less plywood, and purchasing pulp, rather than paper. This keeps more jobs at home.
The majority of Chinese forest product imports come from Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Canada. Canada, Indonesia, and Russia provide over 60% of the pulp and paper imports. Russia is the largest source of logs, while Indonesia is most important in terms of plywood and lumber. Chile, Gabon, Myanmar, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea also export a lot to China. This has greatly increased the pressure on most of these countries’ forests.
Ultimately, China expects to get most of its forest products from its own plantations. Yet, no one knows how soon that will happen, if ever. Let us hope it does.