The Canterbury Chapter of the NZIF hosted a meeting last night on log exports. In 2010, New Zealand exported 10.6 million m³ of wood to the Pacific Rim which was a record. Wood flow to the Pacific Rim from all countries was 36.5 million m³ in 2010, up from 31.5 million in 2009. China is the largest importer, consuming 25m³/year. Russia was previously the main supplier to China but recently Russia announced a wood export tax of 25% which has led to a sharp decline in their exports. They have indicated the tax will be dropped if they are admitted to the WTO. The tax has helped increase wood exports from NZ. China has begun building sawmills near their major ports in the south to accommodate the increase in logs from New Zealand. A representative from TPT displayed photos of a mill in Lianyungang, China that went from an empty lot to a working sawmill in 6 months. The rate at which things change and expand in China is incredible. In general, the incredible demand for logs from China and India is good for the New Zealand forest industry but there are challenges. All the speakers mentioned logistical constraints specifically trucking logs and capacities at ports.
The meeting was another well run event by NZIF. The local Canterbury Chapter always seems to pick some interesting topics and line up a good range of speakers. I was hoping to hear more about the possibility for New Zealand to move from shipping logs to shipping higher value products. It wasn’t mentioned so perhaps it will be the topic for a future meeting. Otherwise, I have some ideas for exporting if anyone is interested. One idea is to export actual kit homes to be used after a natural disaster. As climate change causes more intense weather events (such as the flooding in Australia or the severe tornadoes in the USA) or other events like the earthquake in Christchurch or the tsunami in Japan there is a need for housing to be constructed immediately. One of the big limitations for exporting higher value products to China and India is that their labour costs are much cheaper so they prefer to import logs and process them at their own mills. But NZ has no shortage of great engineers so a well designed house that could be shipped flat and constructed quickly by a team of local people on site would be perfect after natural disasters. One of the problems with the rebuild in Christchurch is the lack of qualified tradesmen. If New Zealand could design a mill to create a kit home that could be quickly constructed on site I believe there would be a huge demand from places like Australia and Japan. I know the logistics of creating such a mill are enormous and it’s just one idea but I think it is time for New Zealand to start thinking beyond just exporting logs.