Press Release / March 8, 2006

China must act on pledge to end illegal Burmese timber imports

Press release

For Immediate Release, 8 March 2006

China must act on pledge to end illegal Burmese timber imports

The Chinese government has finally pledged to act to address the rampant trade in illegal timber from Burma, after a recent exposé by Global Witness.[1] China is the primary destination of Burmese timber and holds the key to a trade that threatens to destroy its neighbour’s forests.

Newly-revealed details of a forest protection agreement between the two governments make it clear that China has committed itself to “only allow in timber [from Burma] which has been lawfully licensed”.[2], [3]

“China is now promising to halt all illegal timber imports from Burma. After a decade of inaction, this represents a welcome, if overdue, first step,” [4] said Mike Davis of Global Witness. “We look forward to prompt and demonstrable implementation. We also hope that this is the start of a wider effort by the Chinese authorities to remove all illegal timber from China’s supply chain.”[5]

In a separate communiqué last week, a spokesperson from the Chinese government publicly stated that it will “firmly crack down on illegal deforestation and illegal imports”, adding that “China enforces rigid control over imports“[6] and that it “will impose tough countermeasures to curb the illegal cross-border timber trade [with Russia, Burma and other south-east Asian countries].”[7]

On site investigations during February underscore the need for such action – at least 150 loaded log trucks are crossing the border from Burma into China every night.[8]

Fresh statistical analysis by Global Witness shows that cross-border imports from Burma to China increased by 12% in 2005. The trade now stands at more than 1.5 million cubic metres per year with an estimated value of approximately US$350 million. Almost all of these exports are illegal.[9]

“The Burmese and Chinese governments must move decisively to close the gap between the increasingly encouraging rhetoric and the reality on the ground”, said Mike Davis. “They must convert their promises into action.”
”We urge all stakeholders to begin to address the wider challenges of achieving sustainable resource management in northern Burma and the development of alternative sources of income for local communities.”[10]

Global Witness is also calling on the Chinese government to demonstrate leadership in the region by implementing public procurement policies to ensure that all timber purchased by government agencies is from legal and sustainable sources.

For press enquiries, please contact Global Witness on +44 207 561 6368 or email: [email protected]

A Burmese and Chinese version of Global Witness’ most recent report, A Choice for China, is now available from


[1] In October 2005 Global Witness published the report ‘A Choice for China: Ending the destruction of Burma’s northern frontier forests’. It detailed the large-scale illegal border trade in timber between Burma and China, and the associated destruction of one of the world’s most bio-diverse areas. For further information, please see
[2] Source: Global Witness interviews in Burma; February 2005
[3] Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mandalay Consulate website:
[4] In October 2005, in direct response to Global Witness’ report ‘A Choice for China’ the governments of both Burma and China publicly denied that any illegal timber trade took place between the two countries. (Sources: ‘Logging Cos Said Fleecing Myanmar Forests’, Associated Press; 19 October 2005 and ‘Press Release’, London Embassy of the Government of Myanmar; 19 October 2005.)
However, in November 2005, the governments of Burma and China announced increased cooperation on forestry issues including curbing the illegal timber trade, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. (Sources: ‘Minister for Forestry back from China’, New Light of Myanmar; 27 November 2005 and Yunnan Daily; 25 November 2005.)
No further details of this agreement have been made available until now.
[5] Global Witness has estimated that more than 95% of China’s timber imports from Burma are illegal. The percentage of illegal exports to China from other countries is also high: Brazil 80%, Cameroon 50%, Congo (Brazzaville) 90%, Equatorial Guinea 90%, Gabon 70%, Indonesia 90%, Malaysia 60%, Papua Guinea 70% and Russia 80%. China has become the world’s largest importer of illegal timber. Roughly one third of this is re-exported to after processing. (Source: ‘A Choice for China: Ending the destruction of Burma’s northern frontier forests’, Global Witness; October 2005, see
[6] Source: People’s Daily Online, “China able to handle its timber demand”, 28 February 2006
[7] Source: Xinhua, “China able to be self-reliant in timber consumption: forest administration”; 28 February 2006
[8] Source: Global Witness information; 20-24 February 2006
[9] Source: Global Witness analysis based on information from World Trade Atlas
[10] Following initial denials the Burmese government publicly admitted to the large-scale illegal border trade in early January 2006. It also imposed a temporary logging ban in northern Burma’s Kachin State. Nevertheless in late January Global Witness was able to reveal that Chinese log trucks were again moving into northern Burma. These mixed signals have fuelled concerns that the suspension of the timber trade may be aimed less at preserving the forests than undermining local ceasefire groups that derive much of their income from timber taxes.