Navigating the border: an analysis of the China-Myanmar timber trade uri icon


  • Chinaâ??s trade in timber products with Myanmar grew substantially from 1997-2002, from 295,474 m3 (round wood equivalent, RWE) in 1997 to 947,765 m3 (RWE) in 2002. Despite increased volume, timber product imports from Myanmar comprised only 2.5% of Chinaâ??s total timber product imports from 1997-2002. However, the small fraction of total imports masks two important features: i)timber imports from Myanmar are primarily logged in slow-growing natural forests in northern Myanmar; and ii) logging activities that support the China -Myanmar timber trade are increasingly concentrated along the border in northern Myanmarâ??s Kachin State. This greater concentration of the timber trade has begun to have substantial ecological and socioeconomic impacts within Chinaâ??s borders. The majority of Chinaâ??s timber product imports from Myanmar are shipped overland through neighboring Yunnan Provinceâ??88% of all imports from 1997-2002 according to Chinaâ??s national customs statistics. Of these, more than 75% of timber product inflows passed through the three prefectures in northwest Yunnan that border Kachin State. Most of these logging activities are currently concentrated in three areas â?? Pianma Township (Nujiang Prefecture), Yingjiang County (Dehong Prefecture), and Diantan Township (Baoshan Municipality). Logging that sustains the timber industry along Yunnanâ??s border with Kachin State is done by Chinese companies that are operating in Myanmar but are based along the border in China. Logging activities in Kachin State, from actual harvesting to road building, are almost all carried out by Chinese citizens. Although the volume of Chinaâ??s timber product imports from Myanmar is small by comparison, the scale of logging along the border is considerable, and border townships and counties have become over-reliant on the timber trade as a primary means of fiscal revenue. As the costs of logging in Myanmar rise, this situation is increasingly becoming economically unsustainable, and shifts in the timber industry will have significant implications for the future of Yunnanâ??s border region. Importantly, a large proportion of logging and timber processing along the border is both managed and manned by migrant workers. Because of companiesâ?? and workersâ?? low level of embeddedness in the local economy, border village communities are particularly vulnerable to swings in the timber trade. More broadly, timber trade ha s done little to promote sustained economic growth along the China-Myanmar border as profits, by and large, have not been redirected into local economies. In addition to socioeconomic pressures, the combination of insufficient regulation in China and political instability in northern Myanmar has exacted a high ecological price. The uncertain regulatory and contractual environment has oriented the border logging industry toward short-term harvesting and profits, rather than investments in longer-term timber production. Degradation in Myanmarâ??s border forests will have an impact on Chinaâ??s forests, as wildlife, pest and disease management, forest fire prevention and containment, and controlling natural disasters caused by soil erosion all become increasingly difficult

publication date

  • 2004