Flora of Indonesia

Beijing urged to save rare timber

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2007, 12:00am

Global environmental group Greenpeace has warned the Chinese government that its international reputation could be further tarnished if it does not take action to tackle the rampant smuggling of timber from Indonesia.

In its report Merbau's Last Stand released yesterday, Greenpeace highlighted the species' bleak future due to over-logging and claimed that mainland traders still engaged in the illegal importation of the logs from Indonesia despite the mainland and Indonesia signing a pledge in 2002 to crack down on the practice.

Greenpeace forest campaigner Liu Bing said an undercover investigation on the mainland revealed several ways that Chinese timber importers managed to sneak in merbau timber from Indonesia, including claiming the timber was from Malaysia which does not have significant reserves of the trees.

Merbau is a slow-growing species that used to be found as far away as Tahiti, but now exists only in large quantities in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It takes up to 80 years to mature.

Citing Chinese Customs statistics, Greenpeace said China had emerged as the biggest timber product importer, accounting for 50 per cent of global tropical log trade, and its imports of merbau timber products in 2004 accounted for about a quarter of its overall tropical log imports for the year.

Due to an Indonesian government crackdown launched in 2005 on illegal felling of merbau trees and the illegal trade in its timber products, import of merbau logs to China dropped from 890,000 cubic metres in 2004 to 60,000 cubic metres in 2005. Merbau logs that have made their way into China are mainly turned into flooring which is then exported around the world.

Greenpeace international adviser Tamara Stark said the rare species would be extinct in 35 years and 'that's the best case scenario we are looking at'.

However, Hu Yuanhui, a division head of the State Forestry Administration, yesterday denied that the smuggling of merbau logs was rife on the mainland and accused Greenpeace of 'blowing up some isolated cases'.

But Mr Hu admitted it was difficult to tell legal imports from smuggled timber. The official likened log import licensing to obtaining a driver's licence on the mainland where people can buy one without learning to drive.