China Customs turn their attention to the complexities of timber trade
Zhangjiagang, China, 30th September 2020—A total of 36 officers representing 24 different customs branches in Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces, and Shanghai Municipality received training earlier this month on Supervision and Regulation of Timber from Endangered Species. The training took place in Zhangjiagang, one of the largest timber importing ports in China and was jointly organised by the China CITES Management Authority Shanghai Branch, Zhangjiagang Customs and TRAFFIC.
The port of Zhangjiagang is regularly mentioned in studies into the timber trade, including those by TRAFFIC and the city is well-known for its high volumes of tropical timber imports. This makes it a key location for helping detect and prevent illegal timber entering China. However, the wide variety of timber species and product, and the sophisticated means by which smugglers conceal illicit shipments makes illegal timber cargoes particularly difficult to identify and interdict. In addition to the technical difficulties of species identification, customs enforcement is challenging.
To help address this, the training event was organised to cover topics including: implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in China; specifics of the soon to-be-released Guidelines for Verifying Timber Legality for Customs authorised by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and developed by TRAFFIC; international and domestic regulations on timber harvesting and trade; identification of commonly-traded timber species; case studies into suspicious cargo screening; and how to carry out on-the-spot customs inspections of imported timber.
Timber supervision requires high customs capacity and this training is very opportune—it is helpful to enhance China customs’ capacity on supervising and regulating imported timber, which will contribute to combating illegal and unsustainable timber trade effectively.
Mr Gu Kezhong, Chief of Zhangjiagang Customs
Speaking about implementation of CITES regulations by frontline officers, Dr. Yuan Liangchen, Deputy Director of Plant Division, China CITES Management Authority, said: “Customs officers are vital for ensuring timber legality in both range and demand countries, but they are under huge pressure and should be armed with the latest advanced knowledge and technologies to assist them.”
TRAFFIC included an introduction to the various tools available to help frontline officers in their work and an overview of international timber legislation, some case studies on timber trafficking cases together with information about some of the methods used by smugglers to try and evade detection.
To help with screening of suspicious timber cargoes, Director of the National Key Laboratory of Timber Species Identification and Quarantine, Mr Chen Xudong provided extensive collection of timber specimens for identification purposes. Officers were also taken to the port for some in the field experience of timber inspection, the first step for some in learning a skill that takes years to perfect.
“Timber is one of the most valuable products sourced from nature and people should be aware of the vital benefits products sourced in a sustainable and legal way can bring,” said Xu Ling, TRAFFIC’s China Director. “This training event is an effective approach to enhance the capacity, build knowledge and share experiences and the unique perspectives of researchers, quarantine officers, risk management officers, frontline officers, and non-customs authorities and academies, all contributing towards one goal.”
Feedback from the participants was highly favourable, although the need for regular and ongoing training sessions was highlighted as a means to share knowledge and skills to more customs officers and improve enforcement capacity across the board.
This was the second timber training session held under the banner of the WCO timber training series in China under Phase 2 of the Forest Governance, Markets and Climate (FGMC) programme. The first event took place In 2019 and covered Jiangxi Province and Fujian Province, while a third event is planned for southern China provinces including Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan later in 2020. The FGMC programme is funded by the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
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