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Japan

A major market for high-risk timber

Japan is the world’s the fourth largest importer of wood products, after China, the United States, and the European Union. Much of Japan’s timber imports come from countries or regions with a known prevalence of illegal logging, such as Malaysia’s Sarawak state, Indonesia, or Russia, or as finished products from China, itself the world’s largest importer of illegal timber.

Investigations by EIA and other organizations have uncovered clear evidence of illegal timber imports entering the Japanese market. In June, 2014, EIA released a report tracking illegal Russian pine from Siberia, through China, and onwards to Japan. Global Witness and other advocacy groups have written extensively about illegalities in Sarawak and links to Japanese buyers of plywood from the Malaysian province. Rainforest Action Network and local Japanese NGO JATAN have documented ties between ongoing illegal logging in Indonesia and paper-sector exports to Japan. In 2016, EIA revealed Japanese companies as the largest buyers from Schweighofer, an Austrian company found to source large amounts of illegal timber in Romania.

New direction needed in Japan’s approach toward illegal timber imports

Following the G8 Summit in 2005, Japan was one of the first countries to take action against imports of illegal timber, releasing Guidelines for Timber Purchasing for Public Entities in 2006. However, this policy only applies to public procurement, which accounts for a paltry 5% of Japan’s wood products imports, and itself contains critical loopholes allowing the import of illegal timber.

The Guidelines are mandatory for all public entities and for private companies supplying public projects, and voluntary for other private companies. However, the Guidelines are not legally binding, lack penalties, and position the private sector to determine its own compliance with these measures.

In May 2016, Japan’s parliament passed a new law creating a voluntary registration system for Japanese wood products importers, traders, and retailers. When this law goes into effect in May 2017, registered companies will be required to conduct due diligence on wood products imports and purchases to avoid illegally sourced wood. Whether or not these measures will constitute an improvement over the previous voluntary system will depend largely on the nature of implementing regulations set by the Japanese government over the course of 2016.

EIA works with local NGOs, with Japanese importers, and with the Japanese government to advocate for a clear prohibition on illegal timber imports, combined with mandatory due diligence requirements on importers. Such a law would reflect policy measures taken by the United States, Europe, and Australia. Strong action from Japan is needed to stop its ongoing imports of illegal timber from some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems.

Impacts & Results

  • On May 20, 2016, Japan’s parliament passed a new law creating a voluntary registration system for Japanese wood products importers, traders and retailers. Registered companies will be required to conduct due diligence on wood products imports and purchases to avoid illegally sourced wood.

  • EIA’s 2014 report The Open Door comprehensively documented the flow of illegal Russian pine from Siberia, through China, and onwards to Japan.

  • EIA’s 2016 report Built on Lies: New Homes in Japan Destroy Old Forests in Europe shows how lumber bought by Japan’s largest trading companies plays a significant part in fueling illegal logging in Romania’s last intact forests