Forestry sector embraces sustainability
Papua New Guinea’s forestry sector is taking steps to ensure its wood exports to other countries meet European Union standards for sustainability.
The EU ruling (EU Timber Regulation No.995/2010) bans the importation of illegally harvested and produced timber products into EU markets.
PNG’s direct exports of forest products to the EU are modest— just 0.2% of the exports in 2011. Of this, plantation-grown balsawood is the single largest export.
However, the bulk of PNG’s timber finds its way into overseas markets via China, which bought 78% of PNG forest exports, mainly round logs, in 2011. Much of this timber ultimately finds its way into the EU in manufactured products.
Industry responding to challenge
While any lasting effect of the EU ruling is likely to be on these particular exports, the industry is confident it is taking the right steps to mitigate the risk.
‘PNG is the only country in the world with 100% independent third-party monitoring of its log exports [by Swiss company SGS], so we are well placed to meet these emerging regulatory requirements,’ Bob Tate, Executive Director of peak industry body, the Papua New Guinea Forest Industries Association tells Made in PNG. ‘We are also working with China’s State Forestry Administration to make sure our systems are in sync with what they are doing.’
In addition, Tate estimates that 50–60% of processed timber exports—which go mostly to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific—are produced by the companies that have adopted Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification regulatory and traceability standards or the SGS TLTV system for certification.
The cost of certification
Bob Tate expresses concerns about the costs of certification.
‘In PNG, most companies aren’t producing significant volumes. SMEs in particular will find it very hard to make the investment in those systems.’
Indeed, he notes that the International Tropical Timber Council has called on timber-importing countries to adopt common standards to make it easier for developing countries to comply.
‘It’s hard to know which regulation to comply with,’ he said.
SABL inquiry report
The EU decision was followed in June 2013 by a report into the illegal allocation of land to forestry interests in PNG.
The Commission of Inquiry into Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) detailed of the handling of 45 leases in the SABL system, which had been set up for agricultural projects, not forestry. The Commission found that only four had secured consent of local landowners and had viable agricultural projects. The report described a series of governance issues, including the lack of management and coordination by key government agencies, and undue political pressure on government officials to speed up SABL applications.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill told parliament that ‘the policy on SABLs has failed miserably’.
‘In other instances, the agency has simply failed to administer the law and applicants and developers have enjoyed a free run,’ said O’Neill in a statement.
He said the Minister for Lands and Physical Planning would appoint a Task Force to identify a new legislative framework to:
• provide for the conversion of customary land into leasehold land for the benefit of landowners;
• protect the interests of landowners: and
• ensure sustainable land use.
The PNG Government is committing the forestry sector to 100% value-adding.