Gateway to international timbertrade


Forest resources

According to FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, China has around 208.3 million hectares of forest land, which constitutes to 22.1% of the total land area. Forest land cover in China has grown for the last 25 years, with a gain of around 1.1% forest cover per year, as a result of the Natural Forest Protection Program, which reduced timber production from natural forests, together with a tree planting programme. (FAO & Chatham House).

Around 11.6 million hectares (5.6%) are primary forest, 117.7 million hectares (56.5%) are ‘otherwise naturally regenerated forests’, and the remaining part of almost 79.0 million hectares (37.9%) is planted forest. The ten most important tree species (groups) from natural forests are Quercus, Betula, Larix gmelinii, Pinus massoniana, Pinus yunnanensis, Picea asperata, Abies fabri, Cupressus funebris, Cunninghamia lanceolataand Pinus densata.

China has now the largest plantation area in the world, principally of fast-growing species. The top ten tree species in the Chinese forest plantations are Cunninghamia lanceolata, Populus, Eucalyptus, Larix gmelinii, Pinus massoniana, Pinus tabuleaformis, Cupressus funebris, Pinus elliottii, Robinia pseudoacacia and Quercus.

China currently has the highest afforestation rate of any country in the world, increasing its forest cover from 12% thirty years ago to more than 21% in 2013. The country is continuing to implement policy measures to increase the quality and quantity of its forests and aims to bring forest coverage to 23%, or 223 million hectares and bring forest volume to 9%, or 16.5 billion m3 by 2020. China's National Forest and Grassland Administration (NFGA) optimistically expects domestic timber supply to rise from 180 million m3 /annum in 2010 to reach 300 million m3/annum in 2020, whilst at the same time it also anticipates that industrial demand (not including private use or fuel wood) will increase to 467 million m3/annum (excluding recovered paper), leaving a deficit of 167 million m3/annum. However, ITTO reported the deficit had reached 150 million m3 in 2011 and believes the gap has grown to over 180 million (roundwood equivalent) by 2015.

Ownership of China’s forestland is divided between the state (42.5%) and collectives (57.6%), whilst the ownership of commercial growing stock for production purposes is 42.2% state-owned, 37.5% collective-owned and 20.3% privately-owned. State-owned forests are principally located in the Northeast and Southwest and are primarily managed by either state-owned forestry enterprises or state forest farms, while collectively-owned forests, mainly plantations, are situated in the south (Chatham House). In some cases, overlapping land ownership can lead to a complex land tenure situation, laying a foundation for land related conflict and confusion as well as conversion of natural forest to plantations.

According to Article 47 of the new Forestry Law issued in 2019, Chinese forest stands are classified in two categories, ecological forests and commercial forests:

  • Ecological forests:  forests in ecologically important areas or ecological fragile areas which are under strict protection for their ecological function
  • Commercial forests: forests that are not classified as ecological forests with the main purpose for wood and other forest products production with the economic benefits.

Production and export

In order to meet this domestic and export-oriented demand, huge amounts of raw wood materials must be either produced domestically or imported from abroad. Domestic supply of industrial wood has failed to keep up with China’s industrial manufacturing capacity due to a low level of per-capita forest resources and the government’s policies on the protection of natural forests. To meet the wood supply deficit in the country, China has become the world’s largest importer of timber.

The reduction in housing construction in China has resulted in a substantial decline in the importation of forest products during 2015, reports the Wood Resource Quarterly (WRQ). The total value of imported softwood logs and lumber has fallen 25% and import prices have declined almost 30%. This has been a consequence of the slowdown in the Chinese economy, which has not only reduced construction activities but also consumer spending on home re-modelling and furniture.

Primary timber products are mainly processed and consumed within the country, as can be observed from the table below.

The principal exported primary timber product is plywood, and to a much lesser extent sawnwood and veneer. The main products China exports are processed products, particularly wooden furniture, plywood, joinery and paper. No exact statistics on total number of wood processing mills in China exists. It is reported that China wood industry consists of 100,000 individual companies, and most of them are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Data from China National Forest Product Industry Association show that there are more than 6,000 plywood manufacturers, more than 10,000 veneer mills, and 650 particleboard mills. National Economic Census showed China has 25,000 furniture manufacturers, while China Furniture Association says the number could be doubled if small mills were counted. More than 50% of China’s wood products manufacturers are privately owned (EFI, 2011). The industry has developed particularly in and around the ports of Zhangjiagang, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Lianyugang and Nanjing.

The wide range of export destinations of the Chinese wood products industry can be observed from the graph below, although USA and Japan are the most important ones.

Legality framework

Forest governance

National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA), which belongs to the Ministry of Natural Resources of the People's Republic of China, is the central agency responsible for China’s forestry and grassland activities. Formerly, this agency was known as the State Forestry Administration (SFA). The NFGA is responsible for policy making, plantation establishment, conservation and wood industry management. The NFGA is also leading China’s international efforts to fight illegal timber and associated trade from and to China, together with the Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Customs. Also, there are local forestry bureaus at the provincial/municipal/county level, responsible for regional forestry activities located in different cities, which are subject to the NFGA.

At present, the main forest codes in effect are the “Forest Law of The People's Republic of China (2019 Amendment)”, adopted in 1984 and most recently revised in 2019, and the “Regulation on the Implementation of the Forestry Law of the People's Republic of China (2018 Revision)”, which entered into force in 2000 and was most recently revised in 2018. The latter will be further revised in 2020 based on the revised Forest Law (2019).

China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), announced in May 2016 sets out binding economic and environmental targets that include:

  • Increasing total forestland coverage (to 23.04%)
  • Increasing nature reserve area (to 17% of the total land area)
  • Increasing forest stock volume (to 16.5 billion m3)
Legal rights to harvest

As required by the Forest Law, timber harvesting requires a valid Forest Authority Certificate or Forest Tenure Certificate, stating who has the authority over the forest. One of the key documents for harvesting is the valid Forest Harvesting Permit (“Wood Harvesting Admission Certificate”) which is in accordance with the State Council approved Annual Allowable Logging Quota. For companies renting forest land for forest management a Forest Land Contract is required in addition to the certificate mentioned above. Converting forest land to other use (usually for construction) is under the strict control by the government. Forest land that is to be converted should not exceed the annual government quota, and the organization should have an official approval document permitting conversion of land use, issued by the relevant Forestry Administration.

Taxes and fees

No taxes and fees have to be paid to the national or local government in order for companies to manage and harvest forest resources, except in case of forest land conversion for which a forest recovering fee applies. The company should pay value added tax where appropriate.

Timber harvesting activities

In China, the precondition of timber harvesting activities is to obtain a Harvesting Permit which complies to Annual Allowable Logging Quota approved by the government. The Forest Tenure Certificate and Logging Operation Design are required as well to apply for the harvesting permit.  All the activities must comply with or not exceed the limitations or requirements on the Permit, such as harvesting species, area, quantity, size, etc. Logging records and harvest volume records (consistent with Logging Operation Design and Harvesting Permit) are required.

Third parties' rights

There are no legally required documents or records regarding customary right, free prior and informed consent, and indigenous people’s rights in China. Once a forest-related issue occurs, local government solves these problems based on laws or regulations, such as Forest and Forest Tree Tenure Disputes Settlement Measure, Villager Committee Organization Law of P.R. China, People's Mediation Committee Organization Regulation, Constitution of the People's Republic of China, and Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law of P. R. China.

Trade and transport

The timber processing company must hold a business registration certificate indicating that it is legally registered in accordance with the law.

For export or import of timber, validity of the documents and certificates needs to be ensured and therefore endorsement by relevant authorities is required, including a Packing list, Invoice, Bill of lading, Customs declaration form, Receipts of appropriate tariffs, Sales contract, Shipping order, Verification form of inward remittance (by Exchange Control Administration) and Delivery order. Related documents and certificates should be submitted by the import and export company as per pertinent laws and regulations. Official receipts should be available for audit.

Furthermore, the Forestry Law and the Wild Plant Protection Regulation have some provisions on the protection of rare and endangered wildlife species.  As one of the parties to CITES Convention, China also applies these laws for CITES species protection, which requires Collective permit for national or local key protected plants and CITES import/export permission certificate.

Key documents

The below listed key documents are based on the applicable legislation and are considered to play a key role in demonstrating legal origin. The full list of applicable legislation is accessible from the Forestry Legality Initiative website. A list of necessary documents can be found here. The following overview gives important documents necessary for forest product exporters from China.


Real estate registration agency and natural resource administration authority under the State Council
Forest tenure certificate is evidence of use right and ownership of forest and forest land, and is also an important document for applying for a harvesting permit.
The relevant Forestry Administration
The harvesting permit is required prior to harvesting and provides evidence of legal harvesting. Permits according to source type and scale of forest area are issued by different authorities. While harvesting trees, holders must act according to the required time, area, species, and measures of the permit to harvest forest. Contents of the harvesting permit include permit code, harvesting location, species, forest tenure certificate code, harvesting area and stock volume, time period of harvesting and authorized organization etc.
Document permitting conversion of land use
The relevant Forestry Administration
For conversion into deforested land (usually for construction) the companies should have an official approval document issued by relevant Forestry Administration as well as the Forest Authority Certificate.

Processing and trade

Industry and commerce administration authority
As of 1 October 2015, the business registration certificate, tax registration certificate and organization code certificate have been combined into one certificate, which means that fora company established after1 October 2015 there will be only one certificate. The new certificate will be referred to as a business registration certificate. The contents of the business registration certificate include: name and address of the company, type of the certificate, legal representative, amount of investment, valid period, issuing date, business scope etc. With the new certificate, there will be a unique social credit code which takes the place of the business registration number, tax registration number and organization code.
An invoice provides evidence of a goods transaction. A VAT invoice (Fapiao) can be evidence of a company paying the tax and tax reimbursement. A VAT invoice can be used to refund tax when exporting and in deducting output tax.
China Inspection and Quarantine Services
In order to prevent the insect and disease related to plant or export, Chinese inspection and quarantine institutions would conduct quarantine and issue the plant quarantine certificate for qualified products. It must be quarantined for the plants or plant products on the quarantine list, especially at epidemic area. Further, all seeds, seedlings and other breed materials should be quarantined before transportation. In China, pant quarantine certificate could be classified into 3 categories: intra-province, out-province, import-export.
Ministry of Commerce
All entities that have import and export business should register at Ministry of Commerce of China to obtain the right to import and export. The registration form shows that the holder has the right to legally import and export. The contents of the registration certificate are: name of the entity (both English and Chinese names), address, organization code, contact information, business registration code etc.
According to the “Regulation of the People’s Republic of China on Administration of Import and Export of Endangered Wild Animals and Plants”, people or companies that would import or export endangered wild animals and plants and relevant products are required to apply for this permit/certificate at local authority. The valid period of the permit would not exceed 6 months from issued date, and one-batch-one-license.

Bans and quota

China is planning to ban commercial logging in all natural forests by the end of 2016 in an extension of an ambitious program which was started in 1998 and whose purpose is to allow forests to recover from decades of over-logging and to help restore forest ecosystems and their resilience.

In 2014, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) (now changed the name as the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) launched a trial ban on commercial logging in state-owned natural forests in Heilongjiang Province, which has historically produced over 30 percent of China’s domestic log supply. Based on the results of the Heilongjiang trial, the SFA further expanded the trial ban to natural forest areas in other Northeast provinces starting from April 2015, and to the whole country by 2017.

The newly released China’s 13th Five-Year logging quota (2016-2020), which shows a logging quota of 254.036 million m3 for 2016-2020, reveals a 6.3% drop compared to 2010-2015 and shows that a logging ban has been effectively enforced. A closer look at the logging quota for each province, particularly with an eye to plantations and natural forests, shows that there is no quota for commercial logging in natural forests nationwide.

Cites and protected species

There are no tree species found in natural forest in China covered by CITES (Appendix I, II or III).

China halts timber imports from 3 countries
On 8 April 2015, China’s National Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office issued a directive suspending imports of CITES listed timber species (Pericopsis elata) and (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Laos. This restriction follows a directive from CITES Secretariat recommending all signatory countries to suspend trade in CITES-listed species from the DRC, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Nigeria until further notice due to the failure of these three countries to submit a National Ivory Action Plan.

National action on timber legality

The project on developing Chinese National Timber Legality Verification system was launched in December 2009 with the help of DFID, connecting China with UK and EU experience. It aims to develop a cost efficient legality verification system which is adapted to Chinese context, and could possibly develop to endorse wood products labelled under robust legality or certification standards from other importing countries, e.g. license issued by Indonesian Timber legality Assurance System (TLAS), FLEGT licenses, FSC certificates of forest certification or timber legality verification.

China has no Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU, although the EU and NFGA agreed to establish a Bilateral Coordination Mechanism (BCM) on FLEGT in January 2009. One of many tasks listed is to explore opportunities for EU and China to develop a shared approach towards legality verification schemes for timber and timber products implemented by timber exporting countries, including in the context of FLEGT VPAs. The BCM experts committee which consist of experts from both China and EU have drafted the work plan later 2009 for both Chinese and EU governments to consider.

Third party certification

In October 2007, China issued its own forest certification standards (CFCS – China Forest Certification System), followed by a number of pilot projects to test such standards. The pilot includes forest management, chain of custody, non-timber forest products (NTFP), bamboo, production management of rare and endangered species, forest environmental services, and other fields.  In February 2014, the China Forest Certification Scheme (CFCS) achieved endorsement by PEFC. The PEFC global statistics of March 2020 report a total area under certification amounting to 2,039,667 ha and 394 CoC certificates.

The FSC China National Initiative was launched in March 2006 to develop forest certification standards compatible to forest conditions in China. On 4th December 2019, the country was reported to have 1,038,623 ha of FSC-certified forests. Chain-of-Custody (CoC) certification has grown even faster as the figure of 10,012.


National Forestry And Grassland Administration (NFGA)
As a Central agency which belongs to the Ministry of Natural Resources of the People's Republic of China, the NFGA is responsible for China’s forestry and grassland activities, such as policy making, plantation establishment, conservation and wood industry management. The NFGA is growing more and more engaged in international policy dialogues regarding illegal logging. It was founded in 1949 as Ministry of Forestry and Farming. On November 5, 1951, it changed to Ministry of Forestry, and the farming section was transferred to Ministry of Agriculture.
Ministry of Natural Resources of the People's Republic of China
The Ministry of Natural Resources was formed on 19 March 2018. Its predecessor are the Ministry of Land and Resources, State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping and State Oceanic Administration. It also carries out some functions from other governmental bodies. Responsibilities of the new ministry will include overseeing the development and protection of China’s natural resources, setting up and implementing a spatial planning system, and establishing a system for paid use of natural resources.
Ministry of Finance
Administering and supervising the central government expenditures for economic development, the appropriation for central government financed projects, and funds for technological innovation and new product testing.
Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM)
MOFCOM’s responsibilities include formulating strategies, guidelines and policies for developing domestic and foreign trade and international economic cooperation. MOFCOM also handles the regulation of import and export commodities and processing trade, and compiles catalogues of import and export commodities and technologies.
Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF)
CAF is a comprehensive, multi-discipline and public research institution affiliated to the State Forestry Administration (SFA).
CAF is principally engaged in forestry research and offers scientific and technical support to accelerate forestry development, improvement and management. The department of Forest Policy and Information of CAF has good knowledge of FLEGT.
The China National Forest Product Industry Association (CNFPIA)
The CNFPIA is a large, national association representing as many as 1200 members. Members encompass businesses, organizations and individuals from the timber production and processing industries, including flooring, wood-based panels and sawn wood. This organization was founded in 1988 and is supported by the State Forestry Administration.
China Timber and Wood Products Distribution Association (CTWPDA)
CTWPDA is a large, national association that promotes the timber industry, timber market development and the international timber trade according to the interests of its members. Its over 600 members are engaged in the production of wood products, forest products distribution, wholesale markets, research and other related industrial sectors in China.
The first international conservation organization invited to work in China, WWF has been active here since 1980.WWF China’s forest program targets: To conserve biodiversity and ecological processes of forests to secure sustainable development for present and future generations.
GFTN-China is the Chinese chapter of WWF's Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN), WWF's initiative to eliminate illegal logging and improve the management of valuable and threatened forests.


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