Rubber industry threatens Yunnan rainforests

Scientists are worried that the expansion of rubber plantations to feed China's tyre industry, the world's largest, will destroy rainforest ecosystems in the country's southwest, the International Herald Tribune reported.

China, the top tyre maker and exporter in the world, ships nearly half of its tyre production abroad. Global tyre heavyweights, including Goodyear, Continental, Michelin and Bridgestone, are either setting up or expanding their plants in China.

To feed this demand, China is seeking to expand its natural rubber output, which is expected to grow by 30% by 2010, the report said.

Three decades ago, jungles and high mountain forests covered about 70% of Xishuangbanna, a region of China’s Yunnan province one of the country’s top rubber-producing areas. By 2003, that proportion had shrunk to less than 50%, the report said. "With rubber prices rising like crazy, any tree that can be cut down has been cut down to make way for rubber," Liu Wenjie, an ecologist, was quoted as saying.

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