The endangered tropical hardwood kwila faces extinction in the wild within 35 years but New Zealand does not even track how much is coming into the country, Greenpeace says.
At a press conference in Beijing today, Greenpeace released a report entitled Merbau's Last Stand, which reveals the smuggling methods used to bring the endangered tree species merbau (known as kwila in New Zealand) into China.
The report sounds alarm bells for the future of kwila and the paradise forests of the Asia Pacific.
Greenpeace New Zealand forests campaigner Grant Rosoman said today that despite Indonesia banning the export of logs, it was found that last year thousands of cubic metres of logs entered ports in China from Indonesia.
"They are containerised and falsely labelled as sawn timber, imported with forged documentation labelling the timber as Malaysian, and kwila logs are also imported from illegal logging concessions in Papua New Guinea."
New maps produced by Greenpeace showed that 83 per cent of the forests housing the last healthy populations of merbau on New Guinea island had already been allocated for logging, Mr Rosoman said.
He said kwila was by far the main tropical timber imported into New Zealand.
"Virtually all of it is illegal from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, but NZ customs codes and statistics do not record it separately.
"Neither the Government nor the timber trade knows how much illegal timber and wood products are imported into New Zealand every year."
Mr Rosoman said the NZ Government was complicit in this illegal trade by doing nothing to stop it and had no data on the scale of the problem.
Greenpeace estimates that at least $15-$20 million of kwila sawn timber, decking and outdoor furniture is imported into New Zealand every year.
According to the Ministry of Forestry statistics the imports of wooden furniture have increased four-fold in recent years to a value of over $150 million annually.
Australian customs had a specific number and category for kwila imports but NZ customs codes were stuck back in the 1970s, Mr Rosoman said.
He urged the imposition of strong regulation.
"If the current trends are not reversed, even at the current legally approved rates of logging, kwila will be extinct in the wild within 35 years."
A Customs Service spokeswoman said merbau did not have a separate classification for tariff purposes.
"It is grouped in a category along with some other woods. Merbau is not a prohibited item in New Zealand," she said.