24 Aug 2012

Timber industry nervous about Australian legislation

7:30 am on 24 August 2012

New Zealand forest and timber industries are keeping a close watch on the passage of illegal logging legislation in Australia, because of concerns it could block legitimate timber exports from this country.

The Australian House of Representatives passed the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill this week. It will now go to the Senate.

New Zealand has a representative on the stakeholder working group for the development of the legislation, which is designed to ban imports of illegally harvested wood products.

The New Zealand and Australian governments also signed an arrangement this week to work together to address illegal logging and promote sustainable forest management.

New Zealand Wood Processors Association chief executive Jon Tanner says this country strongly supports international measures to ban illegal logging.

But he says what's concerning the timber industry is the lack of any definition so far in the Australian bill about what illegal timber actually means.

"The definition could be narrow, it could be incredibly broad. The industry is extremely nervous, both exporters in New Zealand and importers in Australia, that we won't be able to define and describe our products as legal because we don't know what we're trying to describe."

Even packaging could be affected

Mr Tanner says it might go beyond timber products to all wood-fibre products, such as packaging - for example, the sort of packaging that encloses a 25-kilo bag of milk solids or a tray of kiwifruit or apples going across the Tasman.

"In the sense that that packaging may contain recycled fibre, which could have come from anywhere in the world," he says, "it will be very difficult to put your hand on your heart as an exporter and say that those products are packaged in legal packaging."

New Zealand Forest Owners analyst Glen Mackie says owners are worried that timber exports from this country could be unintentionally targetted.

Mr Mackie says New Zealand has good legislation and is an extremely low risk for sourcing of illegal logs.

In New Zealand, major importers and retailers of tropical wood products have a voluntary policy requiring kwila - a tropical tree species identified as New Zealand's greatest risk of importing illegal timber - to be at least third-party-certified for legality.