Rushed log legislation deserves the chop

Friday 29 May 2020

 
Federated Farmers and the Forest Owners Association in New Zealand are joining forces to condemn the Log Brokers Bill as a Trojan horse to potentially force farmers and foresters to subsidise local processing industries from reduced export earnings.

The unwarranted rush over the Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Bill risks unintended consequences, including retaliatory action by nations we trade with, Federated Farmers forestry spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says. The period for consultation is tighter than even the emergency actions on high-powered automatic firearms spurred by the Christchurch mosque attacks. "The bill has come from nowhere and should be sent back to the drawing board for proper consultation," says Hoggard, who appeared before Parliament’s Environment Select Committee today (25 May).

The Forest Owners Association President, Phil Taylor, says both organisations are united on this issue. "It seems the Bill is designed to use local processing as an instrument to provide employment, and instead of the government paying for it, they want to instead introduce a forestry cross-subsidy. That’s never happened before in New Zealand," Taylor says. "That amounts to another tax, which is introduced with no idea of whether it would produce more jobs or not. The government has dreamt this up under urgency and done no research."

Hoggard says it is understandable why Forestry Minister Shane Jones is keen to see steady supplies of competitively priced timber available to the domestic processing industry but a raft of new regulations, costs and extra red tape won’t help achieve this. "Federated Farmers is against any government moves to instruct primary producers on how much of the food and fibre they grow will be processed here in New Zealand. "These are commercial considerations. We need to have the right to buy and sell, and take our own risks in the marketplace. It’s not a decision for government to make."

There are many farm foresters among Federated Farmers members, and growing trees is an option the government has encouraged for diversification and carbon sequestration reasons. "Those farm foresters want the option to choose to sell to an exporter or to a local sawmill at a time they choose. Whoever offers the best terms. That’s the same for our meat or dairy production."

Hoggard says the log traders bill has arrived with very little advance warning or analysis. "This ridiculously short time frame has meant there has been no ability for affected parties to consult with the Ministry for Primary Industries and amongst the sector to consider implications, gather thoughts and ideas, and to ensure that where there are concerns, we can arrive at solutions."

Proposals include regulations that could be arbitrarily applied to various forestry sector participants in such a way as to favour domestic wood processors over log exporters and forest owners. That could well contravene New Zealand’s obligations in free trade agreements with key markets and our staunch support of free trade under the WTO.

"This Bill risks undermining New Zealand’s credibility going forward as well as opening the door to potential trade retaliatory measures on our other exports, such as meat and dairy. It opens the door for the sort of poor policy we rail against when followed by other countries."

Source: Forest Owners Association, Federated Farmers

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