China demand killing precious tree in Vietnam

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Four days after 35 people in Hanoi received jail sentences of 18 months to nine years for stealing sua, an endangered tree, another two thieves felled another tree at the Thong Nhat Park.

The high demand for sua (Dalbergia tonkinensis prain) wood for decoration and medical purposes was driving illegal felling and trade in the tree.

On December 4, 2007, the Xinhua news agency carried a story on the busy and profitable trade in interior furniture made of sua wood from Vietnam.

A sua bed that copied the style of late Ming dynasty sold for more than 10 million yuan (now US$1.46 million), an altar for three million yuan ($440,000) and a chair more than 500,000 yuan ($73,200).

Sua furniture is highly favored in China, and demand has increased in recent years among the nouveau riche seeking the prestige of having furniture made of precious and rare wood.

Furniture made from the red sua wood sometimes saw their prices fivefold in a year.

Prices offered for Vietnamese sua have increased constantly. From 2.5 million yuan ($366,000) a cubic meter in November 2007, it had surged to more than $578,000 a cubic meter early this year and supply was dwindling further.

Owners of sua furniture in China now consider themselves antique collectors, and investment in the furniture is as profitable as a stock market or real estate market.

Huang Da Zhao, vice chairman of a commercial antique association in Guangzhou, said sua wood is expensive for three reasons: it is a herbal medicine that is aromatic, the wood is solid with sophisticated grain, and the wood is best used when the trees are several hundred years old.

Traders would boast other values to raise prices further, Huang said.

Sua in Hai Nan, China, looks more beautiful and is more aromatic than Vietnam's. Many traders have brought Vietnamese sua and marked them as being from Hai Nan to sell it for ten times the price.

The Xinhua news agency last month ran a story about a Chinese woman sending a sua chair to China's national center for testing its wood quality after suspecting that the chair she bought in 2008 was made with Vietnamese sua, and not from Hai Nan.

The woman has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the seller, who charged her 8.5 million yuan ($1.24 million).

Both China and Vietnam have banned the trade of sua wood for commercial purposes.

Sua is found mostly in Vietnam and China and a few are found in India and Africa.

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