Call to cut forestry reliance on log trade

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014

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The Government needs to stimulate domestic demand for wood to stop New Zealand forestry from being dangerously reliant on the Chinese log trade, an expert says.

Forestry consultant Peter Clark told an industry conference in Wellington yesterday that the industry needed investment, and should cultivate the local market first.

New Zealand exports about 70 per cent of its logs to China, which Clark said was not a good strategy if a biosecurity risk emerged or the Chinese market faltered.

Like many speakers, Clark stressed the promise of processed wood and new types of building materials such as cross-laminated timber and "glulam".

Companies investing in plant or innovation needed "a leg up".

"This is risky stuff and I think we need a good domestic market for these innovators to get established . . . to test the product, to build it up to a level of scale before they can think of getting a big Chinese investor in to develop scale to market.

"Just spreading the word by telling the engineers it's a good idea ain't going to do it. You've got to have a catalyst, and I think a public building procurement programme is the way to go."

Yesterday the Labour Party announced a policy that would ensure wood was a preferred material in government buildings.

Forestry players were broadly positive about the policy.

Red Stag Timber owner Martin Verry, who is calling for a "wood-first policy" to build a $120 million super-mill, said it would give sawmillers certainty of supply.

Bill McCallum, chairman of the New Zealand Wood Council, said there was merit in Labour's procurement policy.

"These new engineered wood products . . . many of our architects were not schooled in these technologies so people tend to gravitate to what they're familiar with, steel and concrete.

"And therefore when a new technology which offers great potential to the New Zealand economy emerges, there should be a mechanism to promote the use or at least the examination and evaluation of that technology."

He also warned delegates about the historical risks of countries whose currencies were lifted by simply exporting a huge resource without adding value.

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