Brainpower will drive forestry's future

15 Sep 2003

Look increasingly to the land-based industries to provide the real impetus for economic growth and for the high-tech innovation of the future, say forest owners.

"There will always be a need for skilled labour in farming and forestry, but brainpower will drive the next wave of export growth," said NZFOA executive director Rob McLagan.

"New Zealand's traditional export industries are putting a huge amount of energy into the development of added value products. These require world-class scientific, production, design and marketing expertise."

He said that in spite of all the hype surrounding 'new wave' industries, the primary industries remain the country's best hope to lift New Zealand back to the top half of the OECD.

"A small percentage increase in the export earnings from agriculture and forestry will provide far more export dollars than a large increase in other sectors. Forestry exports alone are worth $3.68 billion.

"Forestry wants to play its part and realise its goals of becoming New Zealand's top export earner and a new-technology sunrise industry."

Mr McLagan said the MAF report on the Contribution of Land Based Primary Industries to New Zealand's Economic Growth, released last week, was a timely reminder of the continuing overwhelming importance of the primary sector to New Zealand's economic and job growth.

"It should be seen as a reality check. It demonstrates clearly that the primary sector provides the best basis for growth in innovative industries, including biotechnology.

"But it is also useful in drawing attention to the policy areas which need to be addressed if New Zealand is to take full advantage of this potential," he said.

"These include a shortage of labour and skills, inadequate roading infrastructure and the negative aspects of the Resource Management Act.

Mr McLagan said New Zealand is fortunate to have 1.8 million hectares of trees already available to turn into fibre-based products to satisfy expanding market opportunities.

"The forest sector needs to be seen as a massive factory producing vast quantities of high quality, renewable and environmentally sustainable raw fibre which can be converted into a vast range of consumer products," he said.

"Forestry was once production-driven. Now it is moving quickly - though as the report observes, not quickly enough - to provide innovative solutions to global customer needs.

"The domestic structural issues noted in the report are capable of being overcome by sensible policy actions in New Zealand.

"As the report notes, in our favour we have the Wood Processing Strategy - a unique partnership between the government and industry. This provides an important forum for resolving these issues so the industry can realise its huge potential."