CHINA’s increasing influence on trade in the Pacific is no better demonstrated than by the Republic’s increasing level of timber imports from PNG and the Solomon Islands.

The international forest trade has been turned on its head since the Russia-Ukraine conflict with the global shortage of wood worsening daily. Disturbingly, China is still accepting Russian logs which, in some reported cases, is being exported at the highest price as sawn wood ‘made in China’.

Volumes dropped for most of the world’s main suppliers of imported logs during the first quarter of 2022 – except for PNG and the Solomon Islands.

According to the International Tropical Timber Organisation, China’s log imports from PNG surged 51% to 740,000 cub m and from the Solomon Islands by 3% to 405,000 cub b m.

The value of China’s log imports from these two regions surged 80% and 45% respectively.

According to China Customs, log imports totalled 9.973 million cub m, valued at $US1.963 billion in the first quarter of 2022. The average CIF price was $US197 cub m, up 28% from the same period in 2021.

There is a message here from the International Tropical Timber Organisation. It reports that China’s sawn wood imports from Ukraine declined sharply by 52% in the first quarter to 125,000 cub m, valued at $US68 million, down 35% in value.

China’s log imports from Ukraine reached more than 1 million cub m in 2013 and 2014 but subsequently fell to nearly zero in 2021-2022. Previously, China’s sawn wood imports from Ukraine had been increasing and reached 1.056 million cub m in 2020 but fell 12% to 932,000 cub m in 2021 due to the epidemic with zero imports this year because of Russia’s trade pressure on Ukraine.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s administration is racing to bolster ties with its neighbours after China shocked Canberra in April by signing a security pact with the Solomon Islands. China has already begun training Solomon Islands police. 

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles says Australia needs to put Pacific islands nations and their development needs first to repair its relations in the region, amid growing competition from China.

Australia should be the “natural partner of choice for the nations of the Pacific,” Mr Marles said.

Meanwhile, Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong while in the Solomon Islands met with the country’s leader Manasseh Sogavare to address relations frayed by the Pacific nation’s close ties and recent security pact with China.

In a travel and trade blitz through the South Pacific, her mission was to shore up regional ties. Since the Labor government’s May 21 election victory, Wong has flown to Japan, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand to parry China’s growing military and diplomatic influence.

Ms Wong was the first Australian minister to travel to Solomon Islands since China announced a pact with the sovereign state during the federal election – an agreement that alarmed officials in Australia, New Zealand and the US.