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How China Runs a Multi-Million Dollar Illegal Logging Racket in the Congo

Pressure is mounting on China to tighten its Forest Law and halt its rampant deforestation across the Belt and Road routes.


Wed 25 Oct 23

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China is operating an extensive illegal logging operation across Central Africa, with Global Witness uncovering evidence linking a Chinese company to more than $5 million worth of illicit and illegal timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo alone.

Described as a “conquered province”, Chinese companies are cutting five times the maximum permitted volume of timber and freely cutting outside the timber boundary permitted by the concession. 

And Chinese financial institutions are profiting from regional deforestation, with banks lending US $554 million to companies connected to deforestation between 2016 and 2020.

It comes less than a week after more than 130 countries have attended China’s third Belt and Road Forum – with the block accounting for 30.5% of the world’s forests, 18% of the world’s consumption and 55% of the world’s total import of sawn wood, logs, pulp and paper.

In 2019, Brookings looked at the forecast forest cover, loss and gain resulting from the Belt and Road Initiative.

The problem according to Global Witness, is that China does not have a legal mechanism to address imports that come from deforestation, “leaving an enormous loophole for Chinese importers to exploit.”

“China is reluctant to address deforestation outside its borders,” Global Witness said, and at a time when the EU, UK, and US are all looking to introduce regulations which ban products linked to deforestation, China is going in the opposite direction.

In recent years, China has invested heavily in Central Africa, with more than 4.2 tons of timber exported over the past decade, with a constant supply for China’s veneer and plywood manufacturing hubs.

A forest technician measures the trunk of an Afrormosia tree or African teak (Pericopsis elata) in the African Congo reserve. Wood Central understands that the trade in African teak is driving China’s demand for illegal and illicit timber.

The Congo Basin’s forest is often called “the second lung of the world”. It is the world’s second-largest expanse of rainforest, with 60% of the forest located within the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

However, the logging industry has been beset with governance issues, including corruption, illegal logging and conflict with forest communities

In 2014, a study estimated that 90% of logging in DRC is illegal, whilst Wood Central reported that the trade of illicit timber through “exploitative trade routes” has been a major handbrake in developing a sustainable industry.

The total of all the timber shipped during the period – over 30 million kilograms, “weighs well over half the weight of the Titanic when she set sail.”

Using satellite imagery, Global Witness found that the Chinese-supported Congo King Baisheng Forestry Development was logging an area in the DRC rainforest despite concessions being suspended by the Ministry of Environment in April 2022.

A map showing the nine concessions granted to Congo King Baisheng Forestry Development. (Photo Credit: Global Forest Watch)

The company then exported the timber through its parent company, the Chinese timber conglomerate Wan Peng International, using the Zhangjiagang port near Shanghai. 

“Our investigation reveals that despite having their concessions suspended by the government, Chinese-owned CKBFD continued to wreak havoc in the DRC, tearing down old-growth rainforest and exporting millions of dollars’ worth of illegal timber to China,” according to Charlie Hammans, lead Forest Investigator for Global Witness.

“As one of biggest consumers of timber globally, China can be a key part of the solution to global deforestation, and the Chinese authorities must crack down on companies exploiting the DRC’s precious forests for profit.”

Mr Hammans uncovered the trade by tracking shipping movements from the Congo to China and comparing the data against Chinese Customs. The allegations of illegal activity were then raised with China Customs and the DRC Ministry of Environment. 

Global Witness is pushing China to strengthen its Forest Law, last amended in 2019, before excess logging leads to habitat destruction. 

“The new investigation urges China to enact and enforce a clear legal prohibition against illegal timber imports – as well as the financing that drives this deforestation,” Global Witness said.

This is supported by Blaise Mudodosi, Coordinator at Actions pour la Promotion et Protection des Peuples et Espèces Menacés (APEM), who urged “the Chinese government to take measures to stop this flow of illegal timber from the DRC and other Congo Basin countries.”

Ms Mudodosi is also calling on the Chinese to “provide financial and technical assistance to the Congo to help it effectively curb this flow and sustainably manage its forests.”

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  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.

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