ATIBT cautiously optimistic on China illegal timber ban impacts

The International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT) is in weekly dialogue with Chinese trade bodies to follow implementation of China’s new illegal timber regulation and assess its potential impact on Congo Basin forestry and wood sectors. It is optimistic that the outcomes will be positive in terms of combating illegal timber trade, but agrees with NGOs that work is needed to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the new regulation. It is also key, says the ATIBT, that supplier country governments work with China in tackling illegality.

The prohibition on Chinese companies ‘purchasing, processing and transporting’ timber known to be illegally sourced forms part of revision of the country’s Forest Law.  It comes into effect on July 1.

ATIBT Managing Director Benoît Jobbé-Duval said the Chinese trade as a whole should not be labelled as trading illegally. “We are talking about specific Chinese actors who continue to operate totally illegally,” he said.  “But they are in significant numbers.”

The ATIBT is developing its relationships with the Chinese Timber and Wood Products Distribution Association and Global Green Supply Chain networks to better understand the consequences of the new forest law and its impacts on the natural forests of the Congo Basin. “We must remain optimistic about the effective implementation of the illegal timber ban, but [government] announcements must be followed by very clear evidence and demonstrations of strong action on imports into China,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. “We raised this in discussion with the Chinese organisations and their response was that enforcement will require resources that are not yet mobilised. So we’ll have to wait for these to be put in place before we can properly gauge whether regulations are being properly applied.”

Action on the ground in supplier countries to back up new Chinese measures was also essential, he said. “Their governments must also take responsibility and act in a concerted manner with the Chinese authorities to track down illegal timber traffickers,” he said.

A report on China’s Forest Law revision has been published by Cameroon NGO FLAG, but, other than this, it does not seem to have received much coverage in the Congo Basin. More communication in the region is needed, said Mr Jobbé-Duval. ATIBT says it will continue to interact with Chinese and ‘other organisations familiar with China to continue pushing it in the right direction’.

“What is certain is that Chinese, and non-Chinese players, operating illegally are causing enormous damage to the industry, discrediting it and competing unfairly with players engaged in good practices,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval.

Xiufang Sun, China-based Senior Analyst, Forest Policy, Trade and Finance of NGO Forest Trends, told the STTC that there remained ‘much to be done’ in terms of implementation of the illegal logging prohibition. “China’s State Forestry and Grasslands Administration (SFGA) has a list of tasks, such as setting standards and supervising measures as stated in the law,” she said. “By common practice, the Forestry Law Implementation Regulations will then be promulgated at least one year after the law takes force, so no earlier than July 2021.”