China is the world’s largest importer of wood and the largest exporter of wood based products too, but according to the UN Environment Programme and international law enforcement agency Interpol, between 15-30% of all timber traded globally has been illegally harvested.

“This is potentially huge, a real game-changer for both the future of the planet’s precious forests and the battle against dangerous climate change,” said Faith Doherty, .Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Forests Campaign Leader. “For almost 20 years, China’s demand for raw materials for its vast wood-processing industry has been a massive driver of illegal logging around the world, especially in South-East Asia and Africa.”

As well as the ban on illegal timber, the newly amended Chinese Forest Law – last updated 20 years ago – also includes: A chapter on forestry ownership, specifying ‘forest resources shall belong to the state unless the law stipulates they belong to the collective’; Commitments that the Government will seek to develop a stable, healthy, high-quality and effective forestry ecology system; Strengthening of protection for forestry resources and strictly banning the cutting of natural forests; Promoting afforestation and encouraging more forestry coverage at all levels; Strict controls over the annual cutting volume of timber.

TTJ approached David Hopkins, chief executive of the Timber Trade Federation for comment: “Any move by China to promote sustainable forestry and responsible sourcing should be welcomed, as they are the single largest importer of timber products in the world and could potentially drive change back through the supply chain to forests throughout the world. However without more information on the specific changes and how wide ranging the scope of this ‘ban’ on illegal timber may be, it is difficult to say how genuine or effective these moves will prove.

“For example, we would like to see China working in concert with the EU and UK to support and implement FLEGT. It is also unclear at this stage what their level determination would be to enforce stronger market regulation.

“Anyone dealing with manufactured timber products from China – particularly plywood and flooring – will attest to the difficulty of gaining full supply chain confidence. This has been identified by the likes of the WWF as a key area of risk for the entry of unlawful timber into the EU market. As leaders in supply chain management, the UK Timber Trade Federation has been working with our members and upstream with suppliers, including in China, to get this right. We hope these reported changes encourage better forestry practices, both in China, and around the world.”

"An estimated 15-30% of all timber traded globally has been illegally harvested," said Clive Thomas, senior policy and strategy advisor of the Soil Association Forestry "so China’s decision to implement a nationwide ban on buying, processing or transporting illegally sourced timber represents a potential step-change for the world’s forests.

"China’s own authorities will have a crucial enforcement role, particularly because much of its imported timber comes from high-risk countries where forest governance is weak. If the ban is to be truly effective, China must look to independent forest certification standards, namely FSC and PEFC, and commit to robust internal regulation to tackle corruption and ensure the efficacy of its enforcement measures."