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China becomes a global player in forest products markets
Asia Observatory

09 March 2010

China becomes a global player in forest products markets

Over the last ten years, China has moved from being a modest player in the world’s forest products markets, to becoming one of the leading exporters of manufactured forest products and a major trading partner of both Europe and North America. This is one of the main findings of the UNECE/FAO publication, “The Importance of China’s Forest products Markets to the UNECE Region” released today. China’s forest sector accounted for some 4.8% of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2008. Forest covered 195.5 million hectares, including 119.7 million hectares of natural forest, in 2008, making it the 5th largest forest area in the world. However, looking at the percentage of forest cover, this represents only 20.4% of the country’s land area, placing China at the 139th position in the world. Forests are unevenly distributed across the country, mostly in North-Eastern and South-Eastern China (see Figure 1), leaving large areas with almost no forests. The growth of China’s forest sector (see Figure 2) has mirrored the growth in the country’s GDP. However, despite intensive public programmes fostering the planting of new forests since 2001, the demand for raw material now far exceeds the capacity of China’s own forests to supply wood for its industry. China has thus become the world’s third largest importer of forest products with 9% of the world’s imports (see Figure 3). Some 60% of its imports come from UNECE member States, with marked differences across sub-regions. In 2008, China imported mainly pulp and waste paper from the US; industrial roundwood from the CIS region, and paper and pulp from Europe (see Figure 4). China has also become the 5th lead exporter with some 8% of the world’s exports of forest products (see Figure 5). But it is the world’s biggest exporter of furniture, having overtaken Italy in 2005. The UNECE region represents some 60% of China’s exports, heavily concentrated on Europe and North America (see Figure 5). Furniture represents some 70% of Chinese exports to the region, (see Figure 6). The emergence of China as a major player in the forest sector has provided important export opportunities for many countries in the UNECE region, but it has also meant accrued competition for UNECE forest product producers, especially furniture manufacturers. The study finds that over the next years China is likely to expand production from its own forests, but that it will most likely remain heavily dependent on imported wood.. Production in several sectors, notably furniture, continues to be oriented primarily towards the export market. As China’s wealth increases, its own consumption of wood products is likely to grow apace. China will continue to have a strong impact on forest products markets worldwide.