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Japanese Firms Importing Illegal Russian Timber

New report reveals how Japan’s imports of Chinese wood products fuel illegal logging in Russia’s eastern forests

TOKYO - Significant quantities of illegal timber products from the forests of Siberia and the Russian Far East are flowing into Japan, according to a new report by the US-based nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). While the United States and European Union have recently enacted new policies that prohibit the import of illegally sourced wood and wood products and require companies to conduct heightened due diligence in their sourcing practices, Japan’s failure to enact similar measures makes it an open market for illegal timber products from around the world.

The report, The Open Door: Japan’s Continuing Failure to Prevent Imports of Illegal Russian Timber, details supply chains for illegally cut Siberian pine, bought by Chinese traders and imported to China, manufactured into wood products and sold on markets all over Japan. In undercover interviews, officials from San Xia, one of the largest Chinese importers of Russian timber, detailed how they purchase this timber from illegal loggers deep inside Siberia and launder this timber across the border using documentation from their forest concession. In factories across northeastern China, San Xia transforms this timber into edge-glued lumber, 90% of which is sold to Japan for housing construction.

“The no questions asked market for wood products in Japan is fueling rampant illegal logging in eastern Russia,” said Kate Horner, Director of Forest Campaigns at EIA. “The time has come for Japan to join other developed nations in support legal forest products trade. Without swift action by the government to prohibit illegal timber from entering its market, Japanese consumers will continue to be unwitting financiers of the timber mafias that are raiding the world’s forests.”

Illegal logging is estimated to comprise at least 50% of total timber harvests in eastern Russia, with some estimates nearing 90%, and poses one of the gravest threats to both the region’s forest ecology and the future of the Russian forest products industry. This trade fuels corruption and environmental destruction, including some of the most biodiverse and pristine forests in the Russian Federation. These products directly compete with Japanese domestic timber, depressing prices globally and putting Japanese forest producers at a competitive disadvantage.

This report follows EIA’s 2013 Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers. In the 2013 report, EIA investigators documented how Lumber Liquidators, the largest specialty flooring retailer in the United States, had purchased millions of square feet of hardwood flooring from a Chinese supplier who sources illegal oak originating in the Russian Far East, the northernmost range of the last 450 Siberian tigers in the world. In September 2013, the United Stated Department of Justice initiated a federal investigation of Lumber Liquidators reportedly for alleged violations of the Lacey Act.

“Organized criminal groups send out logging brigades to steal valuable hardwoods from protected areas, decimating Russian forests and depriving the Russian economy of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue,” said Horner. “Importing cheap illegal wood from eastern Russia is a tragic crime of convenience that directly undercuts Japanese business trying to play by the rules. Any company buying products containing wood from eastern Russia, whether directly or via China, should know that it may be using stolen wood and must take great care to ensure legality.”

Japan must take decisive and immediate action to close its market to the cheap, illegal timber that is undercutting both its domestic forestry operations as well as the forests and livelihoods of its trading partners.

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Editor’s Notes

  1. Environmental Investigation Agency. 2014. “The Open Door: Japan’s Continuing Failure to Prevent Imports of Illegal Russian Timber.”
  2. Environmental Investigation Agency. 2013. “Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers.”
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