No restrictions for swamp kauri exports
A High Court justice has ruled against stopping export of New Zealand’s ancient swamp kauri, saying any extra restrictions would ‘‘create an oppressive regime’’. The Northland Environmental Protection Society had gone to the High Court at Auckland, seeking to tighten laws about the timber leaving our shores.
The society disputed that swamp kauri table-tops without legs, or logs with ‘‘light surface carving’’, could lawfully be exported under the Forest Act.
It also accused the Ministry of Primary Industries of letting the wrong type of kauri slip out of the country, and tried to define ancient swamp kauri as a ‘‘protected New Zealand object’’.
Excavated ancient swamp kauri can be up to 15 metres long and two metres wide.
As trees, the kauri grew for about 2000 years before falling into peat swamps some 50,000 years ago.
These days the preserved wood, dug up in Northland, fetches between $1500 and $6000 per cubic metre on the international market.
Demand for ancient kauri soared after 2010, and has remained steady since 2013.
The product’s export is regulated under the Forests Act, which prohibits native timber from leaving the country unless as a ‘‘finished or manufactured’’ product. The society claimed that carvings on kauri ‘‘temple poles’’ exported to China in 2015 were too lightly etched and crude to make a finished product.
A silver fern, tiki and pukeko-like bird along with the words ‘New Zealand Kauri’ were carved into the logs, which were displayed in a temple ‘‘to promote New Zealand culture to the people of China’’.
On March 1 High Court Justice Kit Toogood acknowledged that while the appeal of the ’’somewhat naive, almost childish embellishments may lie in the eye of the beholder’’, they were no less authentically finished than cheap souvenirs found in Rotorua or Auckland’s Queen St.
Justice Toogood said ‘‘components’’ of an item were allowed to be exported under the Forest Act and compared the case to a wooden toilet seat being exported with a cistern.
On the subject of whether the Ministry for Primary Industries had been lax in what ancient swamp kauri it let leave the country, Justice Toogood noted that MPI had ‘‘progressively improved its procedures’’ since late 2011.
The Auckland High Court on March 1 ruled that swamp kauri was not subject to the Protected Objects Act.