Japan's Timber Trade and Forestry

Japan is the world's largest importer of wood, pulp, and paper products that are traded on the world market. Thus, Japan's impact is felt in many countries around the world, including the USA, Canada, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Chile and many others. About one third of all logs exported from Malaysia and Russia, plywood from Indonesia and sawn wood from Chile are destined for Japan. Almost all of the woodchip exported from Australia, the USA and Chile is also headed to Japan.

Outside Japan, Japanese timber and trading corporations are known for their devastating logging techniques and their violation of community rights to resources. For example, in 1990 the Japanese paper company Daishowa blatantly disregarded the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation's land rights in Alberta, Canada and began clear-cutting the forests of the Lubicon territory.

Many Japanese advocacy groups have been campaigning for years to reduce logging in Southeast Asia. They have also been working on local governments to reduce tropical timber consumption for public construction. Yet Japan continues to support deforestation in the tropics as well as the world's temperate forests.

Japan's forests cover 66% of the land, making it one of the most heavily forested countries in the world. However, after liberalizing timber import in 1960, the Japanese wood self-sufficiency rate has consistently decreased from 86.7% to 19.2% in 1999. The Japanese forest industry has been defeated by cheap wood shipped from abroad. The cheap price, however, does not include environmental costs. During this period Japanese wood production has decreased one third, and the number of forestry workers has fallen to one-sixth of its previous number. Because of the decline of the industry and small number of new young workers, the number of forestry workers over 65 years old climbed to 29% in 1999.

After World War II, large-scale softwood plantations, such as cedar and cypress, were established in order to meet growing domestic wood demand. Now plantations account for 40% of Japanese forests. Maintenance such as weeding, cleaning cutting, thinning and pruning is needed for plantation management. However, demand for domestic wood is low and maintenance such as thinning is not put into practice. The result is that overcrowded, poor-growing, thin trees are left as is and little sunlight in the dense forest limits undergrowth, causing surface soil erosion. The situation not only disturbs efficient use of timber resources, but also leaves forests vulnerable to disease and pests and can cause disasters such as landslides when heavy rain. Reforestation is not put into practice after logging, making the situation even more serious.

Today, annual forest growth in Japan has reached 70 million cubic meters, but annual wood production is 19 million cubic meters, or less than one third of annual growth. If appropriate forest management and proper evaluation are realized throughout the world, and Japanese forestry is revitalized, impacts to forests overseas by Japanese wood demand could be reduced. However, current international trade and investment negotiations are taking Japan in another direction.

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