China could lead global fight against illegal logging in the Congo Basin

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The transformation of the Congo Basin timber trade into one significantly influenced by twenty key Chinese trading companies offers a golden opportunity to  contribute significantly to tackle illegal logging in the world’s second largest rainforest, according to a new Greenpeace East Asia and Greenpeace Africa report, Opportunity Knocks.

“The health of the second ‘lungs of the earth’ is the responsibility of the whole world. But it is now China that holds the key to reigning in the illegal logging trade which does them so much damage,” said Rashid Kang, Head of China Forest Campaign, Greenpeace East Asia.

The Congo Basin rainforest holds 53% of Africa’s total carbon stocks. Its preservation is an important Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) component in the lead up to the COP21 climate talks. Yet it is increasingly under threat from forest destruction, and attempts to control this are consistently undermined by widespread illegal practices and corruption in forestry sectors throughout the region.

In 2012 China surpassed the European Union as the largest importer of Congo Basin wood. By 2014 the trade was concentrated in the hands of a small group of influential Chinese companies, the largest 20 of whom accounted for 71% of all logs exported from the region. Eight of these companies are state owned.

Opportunity Knocks includes analysis of 11 years of Chinese customs data records and documents the results of interviews conducted by Greenpeace East Asia with the most important Chinese importers of Congo Basin logs. It concludes that these companies play a game of calculated ignorance and are unwilling to improve their due-diligence procedures.

The report also reveals that three of the companies have their supply chain contaminated with illegal wood or are directly involved in illegal logging activities. Given the size of the trade and the quantity of illegal wood exported from the Congo Basin, this is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Unlike fellow key markets, the US and the EU, China does not yet have binding legislation that prohibits illegal timber being placed on its markets. The government currently relies on companies to self-regulate their own buying processes and supply chains.

“There is an urgent need for China to introduce mandatory measures akin to the European Timber Regulation and US Lacey Act,” said Victorine Che Thoener, Project Leader, Congo Basin Forest Cluster, for Greenpeace Africa. “With this, we could see historic steps forward in the fight against illegal logging and a strengthening of Africa-China partnership.”

Greenpeace East Asia and Greenpeace Africa call on the Chinese government to introduce strong legislation to prohibit the import of illegally sourced timber. As an interim measure, the government should demand that Chinese importers of Congo Basin logs, particularly the 20 most influential, strictly follow due diligence and ensure the legality of their operations.

China should also strengthen its cooperation with the countries of the Congo Basin, the EU and the US to clean up the global supply chain and stop the trade in illegal timber. Meanwhile, the governments of the Congo Basin should put in place stronger measures to deal with illegal logging in their respective countries and work closely with international partners to monitor and combat the exportation of illegal logs.