China: Divergent views on revised timber processing license system

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China began to implement a timber processing license system in 1986 and this has played an important role in the rational use of domestic forest resources.

The timber processing license system in China is currently being overhauled against the background of decentralisation and the need to reduce bureaucratic interference as well as to rein in government spending. A new system has been piloted in Guangdong, Guangxi, Shandong and Jiangxi provinces.

Recently the State Forestry Administration (SFA) established a research group to assess the impact of the new system in a few areas.

Two opposing views emerged from this analysis. One view suggested that the previous timber processing license system should be continued as the expansion of timber processing enterprises after the change is out of control.

The study team found the layout, scale and technical capacity of the majority of new processing plants built since the easing of controls is inadequate. It was found that most of the new processing enterprises were inefficient users of raw materials, the added value was at a low level and the enterprises do not meet the requirements for energy saving and emission reduction and efficiency.

In addition, the weakening of the timber processing license system has resulted in considerable pressure on domestic forest resources. Because of the changes in the licensing system the competent forestry authorities no longer had authority over enterprise developments, supervision has been lost and the rapid increase in the number of small and inefficient mills is contributing to deforestation.

It has been reported that Guangdong Forestry Bureau has unilaterally reversed the timber processing license system because there were 3,951 cases of illegal harvesting and transport of timber in 2013, a year-on-year increase of 50%.

On the other hand some analysts say the timber processing license system should be completely abolished to be replaced by a simplified system. While views on the system differ one thing is certain say analysts, the existing timber processing license system and regulatory policy should be improved and reformed.

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