As China’s share of the global forest products market continues to grow, interest has intensified in, first, how Chinese companies are dealing with law enforcement and governance concerns in their supply chains and overseas operations, and second, what policy or regulatory measures the Chinese government is adopting to promote sustainable forest management and trade.
Until quite recently, illegal logging and associated trade were sensitive issues in China, limiting any discussion about the country's role in the global response. This is now changing, as stakeholders from civil society, government and industry increasingly join in or instigate discussions about the role and responsibilities of China in tackling illegality.
IUCN, through its China Programme, has been working with its members and partners to broaden the national debate on illegal logging and associated trade. Between 2007 and 2010, in partnership with the UK's Royal Institute of International Affairs (better known as Chatham House) and Forest Trends, IUCN China organised a series of dialogues on illegal logging for Chinese and international stakeholders. This was made possible by funding from the UK's Department for International Development and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the UK–China Sustainable Development Dialogue.
The Dialogue Series
The aim of the series was to provide a regular, open forum for constructive discussion about the international trade in sustainable and legal forest products, in particular issues pertinent to China. The organisers sought to create a space in which Chinese and international stakeholders could freely share their ideas and experiences, learn about each other's initiatives, and work towards a better understanding of China's role and potential actions.
Six meetings were held in the series, all in Beijing. The first five were open events, each attracting between 60 and 90 participants from government, industry, academia and the NGO sector. The final meeting (in March 2010) was an invitation-only seminar for key Chinese and Indonesian representatives to discuss their bilateral trade in wood products.
A broad range of issues was discussed during the series, including: the status of China's forest products trade with Russia, Africa and Southeast Asia; timber certification and verification tools and benefits; the role of customs; and the implications for China of demand-side measures to counter illegal logging, such as green procurement initiatives, the revised US Lacey Act, and the European Union's FLEGT Action Plan and illegal timber regulation.
By linking international developments with concerns in China, the dialogues helped to put illegal logging on the public agenda in China. Through open, informed discussion, they also helped to improve awareness and understanding of complex, sensitive issues such as consumer country legislation against illegal logging, the Voluntary Partnership Agreements introduced under the FLEGT Action Plan, and the nature of Chinese forest interests in Africa. The influence of these achievements can be seen in the more open and active approach now adopted by China to ensuring legal and sustainable wood supply chains.
With the end of the dialogues, and the growing number of similar meetings organised by other groups, the question arises of how best to support China's efforts to ensure legality and sustainability. To that end, IUCN is now exploring opportunities to provide more practical, focused information and training to Chinese stakeholders.