Forestry in need of a level playing field

1 Jun 2009

New Zealand forest owners say investment in forestry world-wide is being inhibited by policies designed to dampen the effects of the economic recession and to counter climate change.

Speaking at the close of a forum of forest industry chief executives in London last week, NZ Forest Owners Association president Peter Berg said he was deeply concerned that new forest plantings in New Zealand last year were at their lowest level since 1945. [Refer www.maf.govt.nz/mafnet/publications/nefd/national-exotic-forest-2008/index.htm]

“Each country is different, but forestry investment almost everywhere is hindered by policies that shield other industries. Why should the New Zealand taxpayer, for example, be carrying the emission costs of fossil fuels, when there is such a big potential to produce biofuels on marginal hill country?” he said.

“This would be a win-win-win, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, providing a new income stream for forestry and generating biochar as a soil conditioner to reduce nitrate emissions from intensive agriculture.”

Mr Berg said the prolonged agony associated with the development of the emissions trading scheme, especially the deforestation tax on pre-1990 forests, had also scared off would-be investors.

“In other countries we are seeing the re-emergence of food production and export subsidies. These policies, which threaten a return to the dark ages of protectionism, are highly disadvantageous to forestry.”

Forum chairman Magnus Hall of Sweden says government subsidies risked creating deep distortions in competition, inhibiting the investment flows needed for rebooting the world economy.

There was the risk that forestry might be further disadvantaged at a time when people of all nations are questioning the economic and environmental direction of the global business model.

An industry based on a renewable resource, that can sustain poor and rural people in developing countries, purify the air and water, protect biodiversity and deliver economic growth sounds too good to be true, but the forest industry offers such a promise.

“The forest products industry may hold the answer to many of the questions facing humanity. Increasingly, markets are demanding products that respect nature, while meeting human needs and earth’s carrying capacity,” Mr Hall said.

Mr Berg said the forest industry globally is committed to taking whatever further steps are required to improve sustainability but it cannot do it alone.

“The societal and environmental benefits of plantation forestry are such that governments cannot remain neutral. Not only do governments need to consider the possible negative impact on forestry of policies designed to address issues in the wider economy, they also need to be actively encouraging the forest and wood processing industries in the development of sustainable land management policies,” he said.

“Areas where the New Zealand Government and industry are collaborating include the NZWood promotion and marketing campaign, the development of a national environmental standard for forestry, moves to improve roading infrastructure and the revision of heavy vehicle regulations with the aim of improving transport efficiency and productivity.

“These initiatives, supported by 2009 Budget announcements, will help reduce compliance and operating costs and help make investment in growing and processing more attractive.

“The New Zealand forest industry is recognised as having a leadership role in areas such as climate change and the sustainable management of both planted and native forests. Through our close alignment with the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations we can encourage the recognition of forest values in other parts of the globe for mutual benefit.”

Note for editors

The chief executives’ forum in London was convened by the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (www.icfpa.org). The ICFPA is comprised of trade associations in 43 countries representing industries accounting for 90 percent of the world's paper and more than 50 percent of the world's wood production. ICFPA serves as a forum for joint action in areas ranging from communications to data collection. ICFPA is committed to the principles of sustainable development and to working with other stakeholders to ensure that environmental, social and economic benefits of our natural resources are available to current and future generations.

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For more information (Peter Berg is still overseas), please contact FOA vice-president Peter Clark, tel 021 726 197 or 07 921 7201 (work); or environment committee chair Peter Weir, Tel 0274 547 873