It is 100 years since the Royal Commission Report on Forestry recommended the development of the planted forestry sector in New Zealand.
It is extremely disappointing that in 2013 the Government does not have a forestry industry policy. The sector, like Fisheries, does not even rate a mention when the Minister for Primary Industries talks about the primary sector.
Our Northland forestry resource, in excess of 200,000 ha, is significant and strategic. It is of a similar size to the Otago/Southland region, surpassed only by the Central North Island massive plantation forests. I favour a policy to significantly expand the size of our Northland forestry through working closer with Maori land owners.
There are various options including building on the existing Crown Maori Landowner initiative, called Tai Tokerau Forests.
It has been disappointing to hear that the foreign owners, Hancock forestry, will not replant the Ngati Hine plantation forest. We should not harbour irrational fears about overseas investment. However, it is essential that we submit such investors and their managers to a national interest test. It is important that these firms work with local mills, processors, and other enterprises that generate jobs and value-added products. Investors in the post-harvest forestry sector need certainty, not volatility.
Asset owners have the right to trade with any party they like. Over the past five years export log prices have offered handsome returns. Forest owners, however, especially in the North, need to recognise the value of having a diversified customer base including providing logs to local processors.
Northland will benefit from a Crown forestry policy which places a priority on wood product. All Crown building projects should substantially be constructed of wood. This may irk the steel and concrete businesses but it offers a better result in terms of climate change and employment. Given the size of the Crown capital spend, a "wood first" policy will trigger domestic demand and incentivise further investment.
Higher value engineered wood solutions must be supported by the Crown.
Research at the Canterbury University Forestry School proves wood can be used far more extensively in building projects. There are many benefits to processing raw logs in New Zealand, including the availability of more chip and residues for pulp and paper mills, pallets, and other uses. Higher domestic timber use will lead to more value-added exports, regional growth, employment and higher wages.
Japan and Canada have wood-first policies for government buildings. Such a policy in New Zealand will support our clean, green brand. After all, our plantation forests are generally certified by the global Forest Stewardship Council.
I look forward to a policy that makes it mandatory for central/local government buildings to have a design option in wooden structure. Northland will be more employment rich and environmentally sound through an active forestry policy.
Shane Jones is a Labour MP.