OSAKA — An Osaka-based environmental nongovernmental organization fighting to save tropical rain forests says both legal and illegal imports of ramin wood to Japan have been greatly curbed in recent years.

Between April and August, Hutan surveyed 430 Japanese companies involved in the lumber trade. Of the 250 that replied, 191 said they had stopped importing ramin or selling products in which it was used. The companies include major trading firms, lumber supply stores, home centers and department stores.

The survey found that nearly 90 percent of local governments have declared they will not use ramin products or are discussing such a ban.

“While there are still some companies that say they will continue selling ramin products, our survey shows that awareness of the issue is growing in Japan,” Hutan spokesman Yoshio Nishioka said.

Ramin, a tropical hardwood, grows in peat swamps and lowland freshwater areas of Borneo, Sumatra and on the Malaysian peninsula. Ramin forests provide food and shelter for the endangered orangutan, whose population is estimated by environmentalists to have fallen by 50 percent in the last 20 years.

In 2001, the Indonesian government banned ramin exports, but many ramin products were shipped illegally through Malaysia or Singapore to the United States, Europe and Japan.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species then required governments to seize ramin imports if they did not come with a CITES export permit.

Ramin is used for a variety of furniture products.

“Our survey showed that about 90 percent of Japan’s largest home centers are no longer selling ramin products,” Nishioka said.

But some department stores, including Seibu, Meitetsu and Keihan, said they will continue to sell ramin products as long as they are legal. Legal ramin exports to Japan amounted to about 4,000 cu. meters in 2001, according to Malaysia.

While Japan’s illegal ramin market has been curbed, it has not been eliminated. Based on their own research, Hutan estimates that over 50,000 cu. meters of ramin was illegally imported to Japan in 2003, mostly from Malaysia.

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