CHINA: Soaring rubber demand threatens rainforests

By just-auto.com editorial team | 7 April 2008

Scientists in China are reportedly worried that the expansion of rubber plantations to feed China's booming tyre industry threatens China's vulnerable rainforest areas.

A Reuters report says that three decades ago, jungles and high mountain forests covered about 70% of Xishuangbanna, tucked between China's borders with Laos and Myanmar. By 2003, that proportion had shrunk to less than 50% it said.

Trees are being cut down to make way for rubber.

China consumed 2.35m tonnes of natural rubber in 2007. About 70% of that was imported from abroad, mainly from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, Southeast Asian countries that are also facing deforestation from expanding rubber plantations.
China produced 330m tyres in 2007 and shipped nearly half abroad. Global tyre heavyweights, such as Goodyear, Continental AG Michelin and Bridgestone, are either setting up or expanding their plants in China.

To feed growing demand, China is seeking to expand its natural rubber output, which is expected to grow by 30% to 780,000 tonnes by 2010, the China Rubber Industry Association forecasts.

However, the Reuters report says that available land suitable for growing rubber is very limited, as the trees need to be planted in sub-tropical or tropical climates, weather conditions found only in small parts of southern China.