Leveraging legality along China’s timber supply to reduce deforestation


Spanning 6 countries, the Congo Basin ranks as the world’s second-largest rainforest. It’s a haven for over 600 species of trees and Critically Endangered species such as gorillas and forest elephants. However, it's under threat from illegal and unsustainable logging.

That’s where we step in. We're dedicated to championing responsible forest governance and backing legal, sustainable timber trade.

Our latest initiative operates along a key tropical timber supply chain—from the heart of the Congo Basin to the transit hubs in Viet Nam, before reaching the consumer markets of China—aiming to protect the ecosystem, combat deforestation, and promote sustainable development for local communities. 


of global tropical logs were imported by China in 2018

The issue with tropical timber supply

The lush rainforests of Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are vital sources of global tropical timber. However, the community networks overseeing timber exports lack regulatory support and market influence, which leads to illegal and unmanaged trade. This robs communities of vital sustainable income and negatively impacts conservation efforts. 

Viet Nam is a major importer of timber from the Congo Basin and a hub for manufacturing wood products. However, Viet Nam’s customs and forestry staff have limited resources to check timber legality. This often results in unsustainable or illegal timber reaching Chinese markets, with industry players struggling to verify whether it is legal. 
The result is a global conservation crisis that threatens some of the planet’s richest biodiversity hotspots and the well-being of local communities dependent on them. 

Tackling the issue by leveraging legality

To reduce deforestation, combat illegal trade, and alleviate economic and biodiversity impacts, the following targeted interventions are essential across the entire supply chain—from the source and transit points to the consumer markets. 

The Congo Basin

The Congo Basin, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are vital producers and shipment hubs. To ensure a sustainable and legal timber supply, we're taking the following steps: 

  • Enhancing capacity of enforcement agencies to verify timber legality and track revenue from legitimate forest sources. 

  • Collaborating with community networks to help boost their income while ensuring sustainable forest management. 

  • Engaging with the private sector by providing tools and training to verify timber harvesting and legality in the timber trade. 

Chinese company storage in Gabon. Photo: Zhang Ke / TRAFFIC


In Viet Nam

Viet Nam is a major player in importing timber from the Congo Basin and ranks among the top 10 global exporters of furniture to consumer markets. To prevent illegally sourced timber from reaching consumers we’re: 

  • Enhancing capacity of customs and forestry staff to verify the legality of imported timber, aligning with the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) timber legality assurance system. 

  • Collaborating with the private sector by partnering with industry bodies to develop a Code of Conduct for timber imports. This initiative aims to reinforce the legal frameworks of source countries. 

Timber processing in Viet Nam. Photo: James Morgan / WWF


In China

China, a major buyer of tropical logs, is our focus for three key strategies: 

  • Boosting capacity of customs and enforcement agencies to verify the legality of imported timber. 

  • Collaborating with the private sector to provide tools and training to ensure the legality of timber entering China.

  • Enhancing industry standards by leveraging TRAFFIC’s relationships with major timber trade associations and integrating legality verification systems into purchasing.  

Rosewood logs at Fujian timber market, China. Photo: Zhang Ke / TRAFFIC


Looking to the future

As with many products derived from the wild, identifying the species and tracing its supply chain is the biggest challenge to detecting illegally sourced timber. 
We’re developing three tools to tackle this issue. The first is a timber tracking device for enforcement officials and key players in timber supply chains. The second helps identify protected timber species using wood anatomy. Lastly, we're creating a tool to share insights on trade trends, illegality methods, and regulatory restrictions. 
This comprehensive toolkit provides a robust solution to the identification and traceability challenge. By empowering enforcement agencies, these tools enable the distinction between legal and illegal timber shipments across the supply chain. The result is a reduction in deforestation, safeguarding the remarkable diversity of the Congo Basin and the communities reliant upon it.

The project is supported through Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI). NICFI is administered by the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and the Environment in collaboration with Norad – The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. The initiative supports bilateral agreements with forest countries, multinational organizations and civil society.