Chinese import records shared with Zitamar News by C4ADS, an American investigative non-profit, show that Mozambique’s top timber exporter to China, the Chinese-owned Jinlong Minxin Madeira Lda., violated Mozambique’s log export ban on native species by exporting at least 497 shipments of native logs between 2019 and 2021, including 242 shipments of the vulnerable Nkula and Mondzo species, for which all cutting and felling is banned in Mozambique.
Jinlong Minxin Madeira, based in the central Mozambican province of Manica, exported a total of 1,506 shipments to China between 2019 and 2021 through the port of Beira, comprising 45,000 tons of timber and accounting for nearly 13% of all timber shipments that left Mozambique for China.
The quantities are far higher than the 7,000 tonnes exported during the same period by Chinese businessmen Jiye Zhuo and Kaman Lau Ming Kwan, revealed by Zitamar in December last year. Those two were charged later that month with environmental crimes as well as money laundering, criminal association, and tax evasion.
Chinese businessmen in Sofala export thousands of tonnes of illegal logs, data shows
But Jinlong Minxin Madeira’s exports included several hundred shipments of logs of two highly protected species in Mozambique: 1,359 tonnes of Nkula, known formally as Pterocarpus tinctorius, and 5,368 tonnes of Mondzo, known formally as Combretum imberbe. These exports not only appear to violate the log export ban for all native species, but also appear to directly violate a ban on the exploration and collection of Nkula and Mondzo wood.
Mozambique’s Ministry of Land and Environment (MTA) banned all logging and export of Nkula and Mondzo in March of 2018. The decision came at a time when the Nkula species was on the verge of extinction due to illegal timber harvesting by Chinese companies. A 2018 Zitamar News investigation found that this included Jinglong Minxin Madeira, who were found to be cutting live Nkula trees near the district governmental offices in Macanga. Loggers for the company told Zitamar they were operating without a permit, but that their activity was known to local authorities.
While only Nkula and Mondzo species have complete bans on all timber exploration, nearly 60% of all of Jinlong Minxin Madeira’s shipments also indicate the export of timber in log form, either by a description of “logs” or a commodity code corresponding to “wood in the rough.” Of these shipments, 497 shipments also include descriptions of the type of timber, revealing five different native species known for their valuable wood: Nkula, Mondzo, Chacate Preto, Sandalo, and Chanato.
This would also appear to violate Mozambique’s log export ban for all native species. Jinlong Minxin Madeira exported at least 4,250 tons of “Chanato Logs,” 2,820 tons of “Chacate Preto Logs” and 246 tons of “Sandalo Logs,” Chinese import records show. Only a portion of Jinlong Minxin Madeira’s shipments contain species information, however, suggesting these figures could in fact be much higher.
Despite Jinlong Minxin Madeira’s violation of Mozambican forestry laws, the company was certified to export processed timber of native species in Mozambique for 2021. Jinlong Minxin Madeira has been operating since 2013 and is wholly-owned by a Chinese national named Jinlong Pan, who currently resides in Chimoio. The company has no other shareholders and no known subsidiaries.
Illegal timber harvesting presents a major challenge in Mozambique as the illegal trade contributes to deforestation, corruption, loss of tax revenue, and instability in the region. In March of 2022, The Ministry of Land and Environment (MTA) reported that illegal logging in Mozambique costs the state “an estimated US$200 million a year in lost tax revenue.”
Data released at the end of 2022 by Mozambique’s statistics authority show a worrying spike in deforestation rates in Manica and Sofala in 2019. The area cleared in Manica in 2019 was 20,512 hectares, double the 10,612ha cleared in 2018 and 9,152 in 2017. In Sofala, where Jiye Zhuo’s operation is based, the figure also shot up in 2019, from 12,615ha in 2018 to 19,480ha in 2019, rising further to 25,298 in 2020.
Mozambique’s MTA has introduced a number of measures over the past decade aimed at preventing illegal logging, such as the log export ban and the complete ban on exploration of certain vulnerable species, including Nkula and Mondzo. These regulations aim to “protect Mozambique’s forests, ensure their sustainable exploration, industrialize the forestry sector, encourage the export of products of higher added value – finished and semi-finished – and create more jobs.”
As Jinlong Minxin Madeira’s exporting activities indicate, however, companies in Mozambique have found ways around Mozambique’s forestry legislation. Mozambique exported 2.6 million tons of logs, valued at USD $900 million, between 2017 and 2020 in violation of the log export ban, and 99% of these illegal shipments went to China.
Reports of seized shipping containers linked to illegal logging are not uncommon, especially following the 2017 launch of Operation “Tronco”, an initiative to promote forest surveillance across several provinces with the aim of tracking down 700,000 cubic meters of illegal timber valued at twenty billion meticais (over US$300 million). In 2021, Mozambican authorities seized 76 containers of wood that had been illegally exported to China, and in 2020 the authorities seized almost 2,000 logs in the central province of Tete.
Given Chinese firms’ outsized role in illegal timber harvesting, Mozambique’s MTA and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration signed a memorandum of understanding in 2018 to strengthen efforts combating illegal logging in Mozambique. This included plans to implement a bilateral verification system to promote the export of processed wood and strengthen information sharing on timber exports.
But despite these initiatives, Mozambique’s top timber exporter to China was still illegally exporting Mozambique’s endangered wood with impunity, at least three years on. The issue of illegal timber harvesting still poses a significant challenge to the forestry sector in Mozambique. And without both strengthened enforcement of MTA’s regulations and forestry law reform in demand-side countries such as China, it will remain so.
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