09/28/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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China: Paper production boom destroys Asian forests

Beijing is poised to become the world's largest producer in the paper sector. Environmentalists charge that raw material is often procured without controls and by forbidden means.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is poised to become the world's largest paper producer. But this ambition is causing serious deforestation in the country and Southeast Asia.

Modern paper production in China only developed throughout the last decade. Nick Harambasic, manager of the American Penford Products said: "At first, China had many small factories of low quality, which produced for the domestic market. In the nineties, it started installing paper mills of international standard. The growth has been phenomenal." The expert predicted that China would become the world's largest producer of paper, a place now occupied by the United States.

Harambasic said that in the last 10 years, around 14 large paper factories were set up every year, each costing between 250 and 500 million US dollars and with a productive capacity of more than 100 million tons per year.

Meanwhile, the Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a company of the Sino-Indonesian family Widjaya, has become the leading company in the sector. "Before 1995, the APP was of relatively modest size. Now it produces enough paper to be able to control global prices." Alex Goh, head of the firm's finance department, said: "The APP exports final products to 65 countries." The APP is considered the seventh largest producer of paper; the first six are American companies (USA and Canada) as well as Finnish. In China, production was higher than 4.5 million tons of paper, continued Goh. An increase in production over the next two years is foreseen in the province of Hainan, to the tune of another 1.6 million tons of paper. The firm is based in Singapore and is quoted on the New York Stock Exchange, but in recent years, it has been accused of not having paid debts amounting to 14 billion US dollars.

In 2005, the firm was accused of logging entire forests without permission, with the complicity of the local government, in Simao region in Yunnan province. An inquiry has been set up. "We believe both APP and the local government are responsible for the violation," Wang Zhuxiong, deputy director of the administration's Forest Resources Management Department. "No violator will escape punishment when this investigation is finished."

Environment organisations and student groups organised protests against APP in front of large shopping centres in six major cities (including Bejing and Guangzhou), calling on people to boycott their products.

China's heavy production has led to scarcity of wood and wood pulp in the country, with environmental problems caused by excessive deforestation. Between 1997 and 2003, importation of timber to China increased by 12.6 million cubic metres, according to Graeme Lang and Cathy Chan Hiu-wan of the Hong Kong University, while paper and pulp rose from an equivalent of 27.6 million cubic metres of wood to 66.5 million cubic metres. Suppliers are from Southeast Asian states and above all from Russia and Indonesia.

The World Wildlife Found (WWF) fears all this is harmful for the Southeast Asian forests, as well as those in Russia and South America. The organisation said in a report: "China imports from many states where forest controls are scarce." For example, [the income of] importation from Myanmar, one of the main suppliers, goes towards increasing funding for the military costs of the Junta as well as those of revolutionary groups, without any effective monitoring of outcomes on the environment."

This is how things were in Indonesia, which in the nineties lost two million hectares of forest thanks to logging undertaken by "both abusive and authorised operators". Chinese importation from Indonesia of wood and derived products amounted to more than 2.6 million cubic metres in 2002, which was the amount declared by Jakarta for exports. The report concluded that this could be explained only by carelessness or worse, by illegal activities.

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