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Chinese seek stake in BC forestry company as FIPA decision looms

Photo of Cortes Island Forest by TJ Watt courtesy of Ancient Forest Alliance

Potential impacts of a  $100 million dollar deal between China Investment Corporation (CIC) and Brookfield Asset Management Inc, the majority shareholder in Island Timberlands (IT), have made headlines internationally and alarmed activists in British Columbia. The story was first reported in early November by the Wall Street Journal.

South China Morning Post reported upon it more recently,  quoting activist Zoe Miles.

Island Timberlands intends to clear cut a forest Cortes Island residents say they cherish, but so far the community has stopped IT from proceeding.

The industrial scale forestry  IT proposes for Cortes Island “gives the corporation all of the profit at the expense of the community," Miles said.

Because IT is exporting raw logs to the Chinese market, as opposed to finished products, Miles said residents will be left with a "devastated ecosystem" and no long-term benefits for locals.

“What we see is that they appear to be far more interested in making a deal with China than they do with the local community, and so, to all appearances, their priority is profit over local benefit,” Miles said. 

Islanders want to work with the forestry company to “create a new model that everyone can benefit from and that creates local jobs as well as preserve the integrity of the ecosystem and that they can still make a profit from."

Neither the CIC sale nor the Canada-China FIPA agreement have gone through yet, Kenneth Wu, executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance said.

“And in fact, I think the ratification of FIPA has been stalled by a massive public outcry, including among the Conservative voting base,” he said.

“Many of the activists are pushing for stronger forest practice regulations... to ensure essentially that eco-forestry standards and community standards are implemented on those lands. They’re not anti-logging. They want to see sustainable logging. But the ability to get new laws to strengthen the forest practices standards could be jeopardized," Wu said. 

If FIPA is  ratified by the federal government, he cautioned, the trade agreement will protect Chinese investors, and allow them to sue for the potential lost profits as a result of new environmental laws, such as a tax for exporting raw logs to Chinese or American mills.

He said such a move would  make it difficult to create policies that would respond to the vision of “sustainable forestry” articulated for Cortes Island and other sites.

Relations with First Nations

Weakened regulatory abilities and local resource control aside, the AFA  also cautions that the Canada-China FIPA and CIC’s Island Timberlands buy-in could hinder negotiations with First Nations over land-use planning. It could also destabalize joint decision-making, as well as the push to create a “Forest Land Reserve” designation that would protect specific forest areas from development.

For some Cortes Island residents, these possibilities are part of a longer struggle over forest resources. Rick Bockner, himself a professional woodworker, moved to Cortes Island 21 years ago with his two daughters. He was on the island in 1991 when islanders fought Macmillan-Bloedel over what he notes are many of the same trees.

“The difference is that in 1991 those logs probably would have been processed locally. And these days with the provincial government aiding and abetting the corporations in exporting raw logs to foreign markets, we’re finding that there’s no benefit locally from any of this activity, and it’s a sticking point for us,” he said. 

Island Timberlands was contacted but did not provide a comment before deadline.

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