14 Jul 2015

Tweaks to kauri controls 'not enough'

8:30 am on 14 July 2015

Environmentalists and opposition MPs say tweaks to controls on swamp kauri exports do not go far enough to bring the industry into line.

A kauri log "carving" wrapped in plastic, leaving a warehouse in Awanui for export.

A kauri log "carving" wrapped in plastic, leaving a warehouse in Awanui for export. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

From now on, exporters will have to notify the Ministry for Primary Industries of all kauri products being shipped overseas.

Mining sites will also have to be inspected, volumes of timber verified and a Customs alert placed on all exports.

The changes come after widespread criticism of regulation in the industry, with complaints that raw timber was being sold overseas in the form of logs and slabs, which contravenes the Forests Act.

Kauri exporter Gary Beckham himself had a run in with the law, when he was prosecuted in 2013 for digging up kauri logs from wetlands, where he should not have been operating.

He said both he and the industry as a whole had cleaned up their act since then - and the Government's new checks were not a big deal.

"I think that everything has been pretty robust and I think most of the exporters, expecially in Northland, have probably already been exceeding what the minimum requirement is, as far as it's probably the small players that don't know the rules and regulations, and that's where MPI may need to spend some more time."

Mr Beckham said for him, the changes meant more paperwork, but his business exporting kauri tabletops to China could continue uninterrupted.

But it is exactly this business that Fiona Furrell, a member of the Northland Environmental Protection Society, is unhappy about.

She said the law stated that no unprocessed timber could go offshore, but what some exporters were calling table tops were merely blank slabs.

"A tree standing in a paddock could be a table. It has to be made into a table before it is a table and the fact that it could be, simply means it can't go out."

http://www.ancientwood.com/ Ancient Wood

The US-based Ancientwood website showing slabs of kauri. Photo: Ancientwood

Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said the ministry thought it was okay to allow roughsawn planks to be exported as rustic table tops.

"It's not, in our book, because it means that jobs and processing aren't in Northland - they occur overseas. And it's a gross breach, in our view, of the law for that to be allowed and classified as a finished and manufactured product."

But Mr Beckham said his table tops were sawn out of logs and up to 150 hours of work went into finishing them for export.

"I've been to China probably several times now to check on what happens with our product over in China, and I can guarantee - and I've actually supplied photos to MPI - of shops in China with our table tops in those shops, as they left New Zealand."

Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis has also campaigned for tighter kauri export industry controls.

He did not believe tighter checks would make "a blind bit of difference".

"It relies on contractors to actually be upfront in saying that they're actually extracting from here, there and everywhere and I'm not sure that they would see any need to do that.

"Because why would they? It might impinge on their business activities and they've been getting away with it for so long now that I don't think they'll see the need to report every step of the way."

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy told Morning Report nothing will leave the country without the ministry checking it off.

"What this is, is about greater visibility and greater transparency and these intitiatives are going to give the public more confidence in the process at the moment."

Both the Greens and Labour want a moratorium on any extraction or exports of swamp kauri until there is further industry regulation.

Drone photo of the Kauri Ruakaka stockpile which gives an idea of the scale of the business.

Drone photo of the Kauri Ruakaka stockpile. Photo: Supplied

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs