Australasia's home for timber news and information

China’s new Forest Law makes sweeping changes

China’s newly revised Forest Law will come into force in July 2020. Shifting away from a focus on timber production, the revised law seeks to balance forest management to more fully realize the role of forests in providing economic, social, ecological and cultural services.  Source: Timberbiz

In December 2019, the Standing Committee of the 13 National People’s Congress voted to revise the Forest Law, the second amendment since its original passage in 1984. The revised law requires any cultivation or use of forest resources to follow principles of sustainability and protection of nature.

New material has been added to reflect these principles, including to enhance:

  • institutions for evaluating the protection of forest resources and achievement of forestry development
  • objectives
  • forestry development planning
  • forest fire prevention
  • forest pest control
  • construction of forestry infrastructure
  • afforestation (including promoting public participation in afforestation)
  • science-based protection and restoration of forest ecosystems.

The revised law seeks to address the dilemma between conservation and development by adopting a Classified Forest Management System, dividing forests into public welfare forests and commercial forests.

Public welfare forests are to be strictly protected and managed for ecological values, while commercial forests are to be mainly used for economic purposes and be independently operated by forestry operators.

The revised law retains the existing Forest Harvesting Quota and Harvesting Licensing System. However, it makes the following improvements, based on broad stakeholder consultations and a thorough impact analysis:

  • decentralizes the approval of harvest quotas
  • narrows the scope of issuance of harvesting license
  • strengthens the status of Forest Management Plans;
  • reduces content in the law focused on attributes of planned economy such as the Timber Production Plan and Timber Transportation Certificate.

The newly revised law prohibits the purchase, processing, and transport of illegally sourced timber. It provides a stronger entry point for forestry authorities to supervise and inspect potentially illegal timber, including punishment measures.

However, given the law’s focus on domestic sources, it does not clearly address illegal timber sourced from abroad.

China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration has been continuing to work with other government agencies and research institutes to develop Administrative Measures to strengthen procedures to verify the legality of imported wood.

Strengthening Forest Tenure revised law strengthens the protection of forest tenure and establishes the National Forest Eco-Compensation System.

The revision introduces stronger protections of the rights of private forest right holders. Any expropriation of forest land and trees must be carried out using evaluation and approval procedures in compliance with the law and include fair and reasonable compensation.

The revision strengthens protections of the rights of forestry operators. It improves the efficiency of timber production and distribution by eliminating the Timber Transportation Licensing System and streamlining the issuance of Timber Harvesting Licenses.

China remains the world’s largest plantation forest grower, and the largest producer, importer, consumer, and exporter of primary, secondary, and further processed wood products.

China’s forest-based industries and associated trade have all been affected by the series of legislative and institutional changes. Enforcement of the revised Environmental Protection Law has already accelerated trends of relocation, consolidation and technical upgrading in many industries, including forest industry.

An estimated 70% of sawmills have closed because of strengthened enforcement of new environmental regulations. Many wood processing mills have stopped production.

According to ITTO reporting, nearly 3000 wood-based panel factories in Wenan County, Langfang City in Hebei Province have been ordered to cease operations following provincial government investigations.

Many small and medium-sized wood-based panel factories have closed because they cannot afford to upgrade their technology or relocate. Players in the wooden furniture and pulp and paper industries have been undergoing a wave of relocation, consolidation and technical upgrading processes and are actively looking for overseas investment opportunities in forest concessions, plantation or joint ventures.

The sweeping changes to China’s forest sector will have overarching and long-lasting impacts, not just domestically, but also on the broader state of the world’s forests, availability of forest resources, direction of trade, and role of forests in providing key ecosystem services.