17 May, 2006

ARTICLE: Forest industry can't see wood for the (imported) trees

Philip Hopkins
The Age, May 17 2006

Plantation hardwood woodchip exports increased significantly last financial year, but Australia is set to record another $2 billion trade deficit in forest products.

Log removals from eucalypt hardwood plantations — mostly blue gums — rose by 58 per cent to 2.9 million cubic metres last financial year, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics in its latest report on forest and wood products. Sales of eucalypt sawlogs from native forests fell by 4 per cent, to 10 million cubic metres.

ABARE's executive director Brian Fisher said the logs were used for woodchip exports.

Exports of hardwood and softwood woodchips totalled a record $858 million last financial year. Woodchips were 40 per cent of Australian timber exports of $2.1 billion, but this was dwarfed by forest product imports of $4.1 billion.

About half the imports ($2.1 billion) were of paper and paperboard, with printing and writing paper ($1.4 billion) the main source. Figures for this financial year's first half show imports totalling $2.05 billion, and exports $1.02 billion.

Chief executive of the National Association of Forest Industries Catherine Murphy said the rise in plantation woodchip exports showed the effectiveness of the Federal Government's policy, which gives tax benefits to individual plantation investors.

"We have been able to build a strong plantation sector on this platform," she said.

Ms Murphy said plantations would form the basis of the pulp mills planned for Australia. Gunns aims to build a pulp mill in northern Tasmania, and pulp mills are planned for south-west Victoria and south-east South Australia, based on the regions' blue gum plantations.

The high level of paper imports showed the necessity to get such projects off the ground, she said. But Ms Murphy said the figures also underlined that the native forest sector could not be underestimated.

"It's still three times the size of the plantation hardwood sector," she said.

Sawn wood exports in both the September and December quarters remained just above $31 million, about 22 per cent higher than the same period the year before. Dr Fisher said the increase was driven by the rise in pine sawlog exports to Asia, particularly Chinese Taipei.

Original article

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