Illegal Timber Heads to China

China is urged to halt imports of endangered wood.
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Illegally logged rosewood is prepared for transport in Antalaha, Madagascar, in an undated photo.
Illegally logged rosewood is prepared for transport in Antalaha, Madagascar, in an undated photo.
Photo appears courtesy of Wikipedia

HONG KONG—Chinese timber companies are denuding endangered Madagascar rain forests to bring luxury hardwood furniture to the country's richest people, according to a new report.

Published this week by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Global Witness, the report said Chinese timber dealers were often well aware that the wood they were selling was endangered, and illegally felled under local laws protecting the island nation's unique biodiversity.

"In China, Malagasy rosewood beds sell for a million dollars apiece, yet less than 0.1% of the profits remain with local people," said Alexander von Bismarck of EIA.

"I don't think the buyers of these beds would sleep well at night if they knew the full story behind their beds," he said.

The report details an ecologically devastating trade in illegal timber, driven by consumer demand for expensive rosewood furniture and musical instruments.

"Madagascar's natural assets are being stripped to feed a ready network of international buyers," said Reiner Tegtmeyer of Global Witness.

The report said the trade was made easier by the complicity of some of Madagascar's state authorities and weak law-enforcement by the country's transitional government.

"We first exposed the scale of this problem in October last year but the plunder shows little sign of slowing," Tegtmeyer said.

Investigating the trade

The two groups were hired by Madagascar's National Parks authority last year to investigate the illegal harvesting and trade of ebony, pallisander, and rosewood, which spiked dramatically following a political coup in the island country.

Investigators found that the vast majority of wood was headed for the Chinese luxury furniture market, with small quantities moving to Europe and the U.S. for use in musical instruments.

The organizations called upon China to take immediate steps to halt imports of wood from Madagascar and move towards stricter policies for its own companies and traders.

EIA's von Bismark called on Beijing to put a stop to illegal logging by Chinese companies in endangered ecosystems.

"China's response to these findings will be critical for Madagascar's biodiversity," he said. "China has a great opportunity to help put an end to this illegal timber trade."

Weak implementation

Madagascar's forest minister issued a ban on the export of all precious woods earlier this year, but the decree appears to have had little effect on the ground.

Further shipments of wood have left Madagascar's ports since then while logging within parks continues, investigators found.

The worst-hit areas are in the UNESCO-listed endangered rain forests of Atsinanana.

UNESCO has urged Madagascar to "take the necessary measures to enforce the decree and halt all illegal logging activities."

The agency also called on governments worldwide to stop illegal timber from endangered Madagascar rain forests from entering their markets.

Madagascar's new government seems keen to curb the harvesting and export of precious wood from the island.

But Tegtmeyer said weak implementation could still be a problem.

"To plug the gaps, governments of all timber-consuming countries must follow the example of the U.S. and crack down on import of illegal timber," he said.

In the U.S., an amendment to the Lacey Act prohibits companies from trading in illegally sourced timber, which has helped boost awareness and lessen demand in the West.

Reported by Pan Jiaqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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