Forestry 'at the crossroads'

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Last updated 05:00 26/01/2014

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Forestry industry bosses are to begin lobbying politicians for a national "wood first" Government procurement policy to stimulate investment.

The move comes just months after the industry, which is our third biggest exporter earning the country around $4 billion a year, received a broadside from one of its own over its failures in leadership, low profile with politicians and the "mediocrity" threatening it with a slow, lingering death.

The lobbying could be a sign that the rark-up delivered late last year by Brian Stanley, chairman of the Wood Processors Association, had an effect.

Stanley, whose career has involved work for Fletchers and Carter Holt Harvey, told stunned delegates to a conference in Rotorua last year: "This industry needs to take a long hard look at itself . . . We hardly even feature on the Government's radar at all. We certainly do not make the top six blips on the Governments radar, and I have to say this is not the fault of the Government. This is clearly an industry fault."

The Government is aiming to lift exports, with its flagship policy being to lift the ratio of exports to gross domestic product to 40 per cent by 2025 from the current 30 per cent level. Despite that, the word "forestry" is barely mentioned in the Ministry of Primary Industries' strategic plan, compared to numerous references to farming, fisheries, agriculture, food, and aquaculture, Stanley said.

Stanley lamented a lack of "the bold emblazoned charismatic . . . leaders of yesteryear" who "carried the industry torch" to politicians. The industry lacked a unified voice, collegiality, and vision he said.

"The forest industry is at the crossroads. We can continue down the road we are currently on, live with industry mediocrity, remain at the bottom of the pile in government's eyes and die a slow lingering death, or, we can make a right hand turn and drive this industry forward to become a real economic power house similar to the dairy industry." Achieving that needs investment.

Without large scale milling, the future of pulp and paper production here is also threatened, as it requires the wood chips which are a by-product of milling.

"For the pulp and paper industry to ultimately survive in New Zealand we need investment in a modern low cost large scale mill similar to those that are operating in Brazil and Chile."

Stanley challenged the Government to actions that would lift the forestry sector.

He wants to see a focus on breaking down trade and tariff barriers in key places such as China. And, he said, the strategy should include a "wood first" government procurement preference for buildings as in Japan and Canada.

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That last is a key hope, and could expand investment in wood processing at the stroke of a regulatory pen.

Martin Verry, owner of Red Stag Timber, which operates a big timber mill in Waipa, said the industry was seeking to end the cyclical nature of the sector by focusing Government procurement on wood construction.

"If the Government adopted that policy, then we [Red Stag] would build a world-scale mill in New Zealand. It is as simple as that," he said.

Bigger mills would generate more exports, driving towards the Government's 40 per cent target.

"We are just starting to have those conversations," Verry said. "We are looking for the political parties to put it into their manifestos."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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