Processing more of New Zealand's log harvest at home would have big benefits for this country's contribution to tackling climate change, says the Timber Industry Federation.
In a submission to the environment select committee hearing forestry minister Shane Jones' controversial forests amendment bill aimed at retaining more logs here, the federation cited the large fuel use of the ships used to export 1.8 million tonnes of logs every month to China, and the huge volume of water in those logs which evaporates into the atmosphere.
The federation, which represents 80 sawmilling companies, said recently New Zealand had been exporting around 1.8m tonnes of logs a month - the equivalent of 45 log ships.
"Conservatively these ships will consume around 2800 tonnes of fuel on a round trip from New Zealand to China return.
"Approximately 50 per cent of the weight of logs is water so every month New Zealand exports 900,000 tonnes of water encapsulated in logs, where it is then evaporated to the atmosphere and burn 126,000 tonnes of fuel to do so."
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Those same logs locally processed into sawn timber and medium-density fibreboard would equal 850,000 tonnes, requiring the equivalent of just 21 ships to export the finished product and reducing fuel consumption by 67,200 tonnes a month, said the federation.
"Adding further to these savings is that the container ships used for sawn timber and medium-density fibreboard can backload goods to New Zealand so are well utilised.
"Log ships arrive in New Zealand empty."
The select committee has been hearing submissions on the Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Bill, which has upset forest managers representing New Zealand's mostly foreign-owned forest owners and been applauded by the federation and the Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association.
Introduced by Jones, who is also regional economic development minister and an NZ First MP, among the Bill's purposes is to support the continuous, predictable and long-term supply of timber for domestic processing and export and improve the confidence and informed participation of businesses and investors in the forestry sector.
The Bill has also been strongly criticised by chief executives of New Zealand's export ports. A focus of criticism has been the proposed legislation's rush through the Parliamentary process.
But with more than 1000 jobs lost at struggling and failed sawmills in recent months - before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic - it has been cheered by the domestic processing sector for offering the prospect of a consistent supply of logs. A common complaint of sawmillers is that they can't compete against the deep pockets of Chinese agents.
While critics of the Bill have suggested it represents trade protectionism and could cross WTO rules, the Timber Industry Federation told the select committee it had been unable to find anything that could be a potential breach.
"We can't see anything that would inhibit trade unfairly - no mention of tariffs/duties, non-tariff barriers, intellectual property or quotas - nor is there anything that provides an illegal subsidy to domestic industry.
"We also reiterate that the advantage we see coming from the Bill relates to stability of supply and pricing and that advantage applies to forest owners equally as much to sawmillers.
"That is because domestic buyers of logs offer a stable and consistent market devoid of volatilities that occur from exposure to a dominant export market for logs as experience has shown."
The federation said the volume of logs processed in New Zealand would grow the size of harvested wood products carbon sink to help the offset of national emissions.
It would also increase the volume of the resource available for bio-energy uses to replace fossil fuels as well as providing material for use in downstream industries such as laminated timbers, pulp and paper and medium density fibreboard, it said.
Incentivising the domestic production of longer-life wood products would boost this further.
"Conversely there is a potential liability to be accounted for should there be any significant reduction in the size of New Zealand's harvested wood products carbon pool through further retrenchment of the country's wood processing sector. Processing a higher level of the country's annual log harvest domestically has significant carbon-related economic advantages that will benefit all New Zealanders."