Leveraging legality along China’s timber supply to reduce deforestation

Deforestation is a key driver of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Illegal and unsustainable timber trade threatens essential ecosystem services and sustainable human development in key source countries. We’re continuing our mission to foster sustainable timber trade with a new project working in China, Viet Nam, and the Congo Basin – a pivotal supply chain for tropical timber.

working in

China, Viet Nam, and the Congo basin


The issue with tropical timber supply

Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo’s rich rainforests are major sources of much of the world’s tropical timber. But the community networks that operate the Congo Basin timber exports lack the regulatory support and market presence to ensure trees are harvested legally and equitably. The illegal and unmanaged trade that occurs as a result, robs communities of much-needed sustainable revenue and contributes to major negative conservation impacts.

In Viet Nam, a key timber importer from the Congo Basin, and a manufacturing hub of wood products, many customs and forestry staff lack key resources to verify the legality of timber products. Unsustainable or illegal timber then reaches consumer markets in China, with timber trade associations and private sector companies often unable to differentiate between legal and illegally sourced products.

The result is a global conservation crisis that threatens both some of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots, and the local communities that rely on their sustainable management.

Leveraging legality

Reducing deforestation, illegal trade, and the associated economic and biodiversity impacts requires targeted interventions throughout the source, transit, and consumer supply chain.

The Congo Basin

Among Congo Basin timber supply countries, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo are key shipment hubs and producers. To ensure a sustainable and legal supply of timber we are:

  • Building enforcement agencies’ capacity to verify timber legality and track revenue from legitimate forest sources;
  • With community networks, assisting community forestry operators to operate and export legally, increasing income while managing forests sustainably;
  • Working with the private sector through the use of 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 key timber importer from Congo Basin and a major transit/manufacturing hub of wood products, in the top 10 global exporters of furniture. To stop illegally sourced timber from ever reaching consumers we are:

  • Building capacity of customs and forestry staff to verify imported timber legality, in line with the FLEGT VPA timber legality assurance system;
  • With the private sector, working with industry bodies to develop a Code of Conduct for timber imports, reinforcing source countries’ legal frameworks.

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


In China

In China, which bought 67% of global tropical logs in 2018, we're focusing on three approaches:

  • Building capacity of customs and enforcement agencies to verify imported timber legality;
  • Working with the private sector through the use of tools and training to verify the legality of timber entering China; and
  • Leveraging TRAFFIC’s relationships with major timber trade associations to enhance industry standards and incorporate legality verification systems into purchasing, including working with public procurement auditors to verify timber legality along the supply chain.

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


Looking ahead ...

As with many wildlife products, a major obstacle to intercepting illegally sourced timber is accurate species identification and supply chain traceability.

We are developing a holistic Timber Tracking App for use by key actors and enforcement officials involved throughout tropical timber supply chains. Key knowledge products, as well as partnerships with financial associations and industry members, will help agencies coordinate, identify, and deter the illegal trade that drives deforestation.

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.