03 February, 2001

Timber product exports fall far short of imports

Claire Konkes
The Weekend Australian (article), 3/2/2001

AUSTRALIA exported less than half of what it imported in forest products last financial year, according to government analysts.   Imports of timber products were $3.797 billion and exports $1.576 billion, says a report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. ABARE forestry economics manager Peter Grist said in volume terms Australia was importing as much as it was exporting, but in value terms was exporting low-value products such as woodchips and importing value-added products.  The ABARE report shows exports of paper products, including packaging and stationery, totalled $490.63 million and imports $1.9977 billion.

Last financial year Australia produced 381 kilotonnes of newsprint. A further 293 kilotonnes were imported from New Zealand to meet domestic needs.  According to the ABARE report, woodchip exports have doubled to 9395 kilotonnes since the mid-'80s, while consumption of roundwood - as yet unprocessed trees - has remained relatively stable at around 19,000 sq m a year in that time.

Mr Grist said the dramatic increase in structured timber products consumption in the 1999-2000 financial year was due mainly to the housing boom, particularly on the eastern seaboard.

Surplus requirements were met with imports from Canada and New Zealand. ABARE figures show the Australian market consumed $4.791 billion worth of sawnwood timber.  Imports valued at $518.1 million mostly came from the Pacific region. Sawnlog exports were $51.23 million.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) forestry division secretary Craig Smith said Australia was reasonably self- sufficient in terms of timber for construction, but woodchips remained a major export earner. "You sell a tonne of woodchips for about $35 because it's very cheap --you just run it through a chipper - but you buy it back as a tonne of paper for several thousand dollars. So quite rightly we should be processing forest residue onshore," Mr Smith said.  But, he added, "it's pretty damn hard to get Australian- made paper at a goodprice."  Mr Smith said some timber I products were imported from: countries with lower production costs because of cheaper labour, lower environmental controls and easier government regulations.

He said the main concern of the CFMEU was the poor quality imports being into the country. "We have evidence that, particularly in regard to plywood and construction form ply, the quality does not meet: occupational health and safety standards here," he said. "In fact there have been formwork collapses as a result of poor quality imported form ply.

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