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  PlanetArk 10 May 07
World Must Seek Change in China Timber Trade - Report
Story by Jeremy Lovell

LONDON - Major wood buyers in Europe and the United States must persuade China to bring its booming timber trade under control before it causes irreplaceable deforestation across the world, a report said on Wednesday.

In just 10 years China had moved from being a net importer of wood products to become the world's leading exporter of furniture, plywood and wood flooring, sucking in vast amounts of timber from key sensitive areas, the Tropical Forest Trust said.

While some of these logs were undoubtedly from legal -- and therefore sustainable -- sources, supply chains were so long, varied and opaque that the origin of much of the wood was unverifiable, the Geneva-based charity said.

"If European and US companies and consumers increase their demand for legally-certified wood products, it will inspire a change in the companies' wood purchasing practices in China," TFT executive director Scott Poynton said.

"If using legally-certified wood is viewed as advantageous in the markets, it will be widely imitated in China." TFT estimates that by 2015 China will have a net demand deficit of 190 million cubic metres of wood a year -- equivalent to about 60 million trees.

Illegal logging is both big business and a major contributor to climate change.

The World Bank calculates illegal logging costs producer country governments up to US$15 billion a year in lost revenue from taxes foregone.

The report said China was not only accounting for 70 percent of hardwood exports from Southeast Asia but also aggressively sucking up supplies from the Russian Far East and Central Africa -- all highly environmentally sensitive areas.

The report was commissioned by Britain's Department of the Environment.

TFT is working on a tamper-proof stump-to-store timber certification system that involves allocating each tree a unique bar code that tracks the wood from forest to furniture.

But it says the biggest driver would be increased demand for legally-sourced products for which buyers will pay a premium. This would prompt suppliers to get control of the trade to ensure a premium for their output and trigger others to follow suit, Poynton said.

He praised major retailers like Home Depot in the United States and B&Q in Europe for trying to ensure they stock only legally-sourced products and urged others to do likewise.

"We are seeing an awareness emerging among both Chinese exporters and their major buyers that this issue must be addressed," Poynton said. "The status quo is politically and environmentally unsustainable.

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