Wood Products Profile

A wide range of wood products are commonly associated with illegal deforestation, including plywood, furniture, paper and charcoal. Most of these products are not high value and many are not even made from tropical wood species.

Wood products can be associated with illegal conversion of forests for commercial agriculture in two ways. They can be produced from the natural forest timber which is cleared to make way for the agriculture (‘conversion wood’), or they can be made from trees planted in monocultures on land cleared illegally. It is estimated that around $10 billion of conversion wood from illegal deforestation is traded each year, along with $7 billion of wood products made from trees grown on illegally deforested land (Lawson 2014).

In terms of the total value of world trade, the most important wood product related to illegal deforestation is pulp and paper. Around $12 billion of pulp and paper associated with illegal forest loss is traded each year, around half of which is made from natural forests and the rest from plantations (mostly acacia and eucalyptus) grown in their place (ibid.). The largest high-risk sources of pulp and paper are Indonesia and Malaysia. In Indonesia, there is plentiful evidence of serious illegalities by the two largest producers, including corruption in licensing, clearance of protected forest and the illegal use of fire to clear land. Though the largest producer – Asia Pulp and Paper – is no longer clearing natural forest, its plantation-grown products are still tainted with the illegalities which occurred in the past when the land was cleared, and which have never been addressed. Other high-risk sources include Brazil and Chile, both of which are among the world’s largest pulp and paper exporters. Nearly all of their production comes from plantations rather than natural forest conversion, and most such plantations were established on non-forested land. There have been cases where such plantations have displaced natural forests illegally, however (ibid.).

In terms of solid wood products, high-risk products include those made from tropical timber and those made from common tree species grown in monocultures in the tropics, which includes eucalyptus, acacia and rubberwood. Tropical timber is used for products such as external doors, garden furniture, construction plywood, flooring, decking and kitchen worktops. Though traditionally most tropical timber was harvested selectively rather than clear-felled, in recent years a rapidly increasing proportion of global production has come from conversion of forests for agriculture. By 2012, it was estimated that more than half of tropical wood in international trade came from such conversion, and that nearly a third came from illegal conversion (Lawson 2014). Most tropical timber from illegal conversion comes from Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea, though increasing volumes are expected to come from the Congo Basin (ibid.).

Another high-risk solid wood product is charcoal. The world’s third largest exporter is Paraguay, which has the world’s highest deforestation rate and where illegal logging and deforestation is rampant (Eyes on Latin America 2014) . Charcoal production is one of the drivers of this deforestation, and alongside illegal production there are also large volumes of illegal exports (Global Forest Coalition 2014). Another major global charcoal supplier is Namibia, where a 2015 study found that trees were being “illegally felled on a vast scale” to supply charcoal for export, much of it destined for the EU (Fern 2015).

Deforestation in Riau, Indonesia. Source: Aidenvironment 2006

Plantation-grown eucalyptus is now commonly used in place of tropical wood for production of garden furniture and plywood. It is commonly considered environmentally friendly, but little regard is given to whether natural forests were cleared to make way for it, and whether such conversion was legal. Rubberwood is commonly used in the production of cheap furniture. Traditionally, most supplies came from very old plantations and were low-risk, but in recent years there has been a surge in new rubberwood plantation development in a number of countries. Most of this is displacing forest, and in most cases there are also serious illegalities and human rights abuses associated with the developments. The worst such examples come from Cambodia and Laos, though illegalities have also been documented in rubberwood developments in Cameroon and Malaysia (Lawson 2014).

The largest consumers of wood products connected to illegal deforestation are China, Japan, the EU, the US and South Korea (Chatham House 2015). Though China is by far the largest importer, much of its imports are of raw materials which are later re-exported as processed goods. The majority of the US’s imports of high-risk wood therefore arrive indirectly via China (Momii 2014), as do a substantial portion of those destined for the EU (Chatham House 2015).

References

Lawson, S. 2014, Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture and Timber Plantations. Forest Trends, September 2014.

Eyes on Latin America. 2014. Paraguay pledges to crack down on illegal deforestation. 16th September 2014.

Global Forest Coalition. 2014. A Global Overview of Wood Based Bioenergy: Production, Consumption, Trends and Impacts. November 2014.

Fern. 2015. Playing with Fire: Human Misery, Environmental Destruction and Summer BBQs. August 2015.

Chatham House. 2015. Tackling Illegal Logging and the Related Trade: What Progress and Where Next?

Momii, M. 2014. Trade in Illegal Timber: The Response in the United States. Chatham House, November 2014.

This summary was last updated in September 2016. For more recent information, please see individual news stories.