Green timber preferred overseas but not locally

Updated: 2014-02-19 07:03

By Yang Yao (China Daily)

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Forest farms and timber producers that have green certificates to trade internationally are having a difficult time selling their eco-friendly products on the domestic market.

The certificates, issued to help consumers choose products that meet social and environmental standards, are not as sought after among Chinese consumers as they are in Europe.

Chen Qinglai, a manager at Paiyangshan Forest Farm in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said the economic benefits of responsible and sustainable forestry have not been recognized yet in China.

The State-owned forest farm was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in November 2010, becoming the first forestry center in Guangxi to win certification.

The farm, set up in 1955, is 99,300 hectares and was once the biggest forestry in Southeast Asia.

Chen told China Daily the motivation to get certification came from buyers in Europe.

"Our client, a timber manufacturer, who buys our wood and sells it to Germany, asked us to get certified as the Germans only buy certified forestry products," Chen said.

The costs, both direct and indirect, of getting certified were around 4 million yuan ($655,000).

"Besides the certification fee, the strict standards on environmental aspects inevitably increases forest management costs," Chen said.

Meeting the certification standards meant changing the way the forest was managed.

A percentage of trees had to be maintained as wildlife habitat, rather than cutting all that could be sold, and fewer pesticides could be used. The growth of herbs and shrubs is encouraged, and workers have to wear proper safety equipment and have insurance.

Every year, the farm produces 150,000 to 200,000 cubic meters of timber with about half labeled environmentally friendly. That timber sells for about 30 yuan per cubic meter more than uncertified timber.

The farm increased its annual revenue from 100 million yuan in 2010 to 300 million yuan in 2013.

However, "there is almost no demand for certified timber in the domestic market," Chen said. "Very few Chinese are willing to pay a higher price in order to make a forest more sustainable."

Pan Zhenyue, a senior manager at Liheng Timber Manufacturer in Guangzhou, an FSC certified flooring company, said that using certified timber adds 25 percent to the product cost, but the market price in China is not much different as customers will not spend the extra.

"We are willing to take social responsibility, but if the cost goes beyond our capacity, we can only follow the market rules," Pan said.

In 2010, 26.49 percent of timber purchased by the company was certified, but that figure fell to 2.72 percent this year, according to the company.

Jin Zhonghao, a sustainable forestry and trade advocate with World Wide Fund for Nature, said, "Certification has been identified as a key market-based initiative to realize sustainable forest management worldwide."

"We can only hope our Chinese consumers pay more attention and care more about sustainable development and purchase only eco-friendly products."

Diminishing forests

In China, forests cover only 18.22 percent of the land, compared to an international average of 34 percent.

As the world's second-largest importer of industrial timber, pulp and paper, outranked only by the United States, China has a substantial ecological footprint across the world's forests both as a producer and a consumer.

Faced with increasing demand for wood and paper products along with diminishing forest resources, China imports timber from many countries and regions, including Russia, Indonesia and South America. According to Jin, these regions often face significant problems, such as illegal logging and loss of natural forests to agriculture.

Since 2005, Jin and his team have focused on promoting the Global Forest and Trade Network, aiming to eliminate illegal logging and improve the management of valuable and threatened forests within China and in countries supplying wood to China.

They also provide Chinese wood product manufacturers with technical support and guidance.

Through their efforts, more than 3,000 Chinese enterprises have gained forest certification.

(China Daily 02/19/2014 page7)