Wood ban weighed to beat beetles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 December, 1998, 12:00am

The United States is taking steps which may lead to a worldwide ban on wood packing and pallets.

Growing concern in the US and Canada about the threat from exotic insects being brought into the country has already resulted in a ban on untreated wooden crates from the mainland.

The Asian long-horned beetle, which came from the mainland and provoked that ban, is presently munching its way through leafy suburbs in Chicago and Long Island.

Next year, the US will solicit opinion on ways to prevent the spread of these kinds of dangerous pests.

Washington will start a process early next year to evaluate, on a global basis, wood boring pests and will propose developing a regulation that applies globally, said a US official.

An administrative device referred to as an Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making will be issued by the US administration to open the debate.

The adult beetles, which are about five centimetres long, have also been discovered in Britain.

British diplomats in Beijing are now co-ordinating exchanges between Britain's Forestry Commission and mainland authorities on how best to deal with the problem.

Although it first arrived in the US about 10 years ago, it is only in the past one or two years that the Asian long-horned beetle has reached infestation proportions.

The beetle prefers hardwood trees, such as maples or poplars, which are common in North American suburbs.

One study has concluded that if the infestation spread throughout the US it could cost the economy US$41 billion.

The official denied that DNA tests had been carried out on the beetles to definitively prove their mainland origin, but said there were plans to do so.

Meanwhile, mainland based companies are getting ready for the December 17 deadline, after which date every wooden packing crate leaving the mainland for the US must be treated against the beetle.

The mainland government has also indicated that shipments leaving for the US should be certified beetle free.

The US side has also announced a 30 to 60-day grace period after the December 17 deadline when material which has not been treated could be accepted at US ports provided there are no Asian long-horned beetles present.

Most companies are prepared, said Roger Chu, chief representative of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in Beijing.

'We haven't heard many complaints lately, it is not as bad as we thought,' he said.

Most of the heavy goods producers were now using different packing materials, Mr Chu said.

But he also said there was a strong suspicion among many mainland exporters that the US ban was motivated by concern over its ballooning trade deficit rather than by the health of suburban neighbourhoods.