China seen as key for reducing illegal logging in Melanesia

Logs loaded onto barge at Kanduanum on Sepik River; Turubu SABL, East Sepik Province, PNG. Photo: Global Witness

CIVIL society is looking at China as the best bet for reducing illegal logging in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

PNG is China’s single largest supplier of timber, large quantities of which come from illegal operations.

A policy advisor with the environmental and anti-corruption NGO Global Witness says PNG’s government has largely failed to put the interests of landowners who depend on forests ahead of foreign logging interests.

Lela Stanley said China holds the key because it purchases at least 85 percent of PNG’s annual log exports.

“It’s a similar situation in PNG’s neighbour Solomon Islands. China just has this outsize purchasing power, this outsize influence in the business.

“Any changes that it makes in terms of what kind of requirements it places on how timber is produced, how it’s sourced, how it’s checking to make sure it’s been done legally or not, will have a really profound impact.”

PNG civil society groups have written to China’s government urging it to regulate illegal wood imports from the country.

The letter, which highlights the impacts of illegal logging on PNG rural communities, was addressed to Chinese president Xi Jinping who is in PNG this week for APEC.

Ms Stanley said it was hoped that Xi’s new Belt and Road initiaitives in the region would take heed of the need for regulations around sourcing of raw materials like timber.

“It’s going to be hard to break through other competing demands for attention this week at APEC,” she admitted.

Ms Stanley said other major economies have created laws to ensure timber they source abroad are produced legally and sustainably, and China’s lack of regulations was notable.

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