Landmark ruling restricts kauri exports
Swamp kauri must not leave the country unless it has been processed into a product, a court has ruled.
A Supreme Court of New Zealand ruling, released yesterday, found that, to be lawfully exported, a swamp kauri item must be a product in itself and in its final or kitset form and it must be ready either to be used or to be installed into a larger structure.
Swamp kauri timber, also known as ancient kauri, is milled from kauri trees that have been buried and preserved in peat swamps for between 800 and 60,000 years.
Most swamp kauri is found in Northland but some has been found as far south as Waikato.
The Ministry for Primary Industries says on its website that swamp kauri exports are subject to strict rules and a breach could result in a fine of up to $200,000 on conviction.
Yesterday’s ruling overturns a 2017 High Court ruling that said swamp kauri products should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
In 2015 the appellant, Northland Environmental Protection Society (NEPS), claimed swamp kauri was being illegally exported.
NEPS was primarily concerned about alleged exports of slabs of swamp kauri, said to be tabletops, and of lightly carved swamp kauri logs, said to be temple poles.
At issue was whether such items fell within the definition of finished or manufactured indigenous timber product as outlined in the Forests Act 1949. If such items did fall within the ‘‘finished or manufactured’’ definition they can be lawfully exported.
NEPS chairwoman Fiona Furrell said she was ‘‘elated’’ with the ruling. The victory marked the end of a nine-year battle costing thousands of dollars and countless hours of work, she said.
The group’s lawyers had worked pro bono, she said.
As a result of the ruling, loggers would be less attracted to the prospect of milling swamp kauri because of the added time and money required getting it to export standards, she said.
This would reduce the destruction of wetlands, she said.
And the ruling did not just apply to kauri – all native timber would need to meet a more stringent criteria before export, she said.
NEPS also maintained that swamp kauri was a protected New Zealand object as defined in the Protected Objects Act 1975, which would put restrictions on export swamp kauri; however, this appeal was dismissed.
The High Court held the view that the ‘‘finished or manufactured’’ definition required a practical approach, with a case-by-case assessment of a product’s appearance and intended use at the time of export.
The High Court found that, using this approach, a tabletop without fixed legs could meet the ‘‘finished or manufactured’’ definition.
NEPS’ appeal to the Court Appeal was dismissed.
The Supreme Court allowed the appeal in respect of the Forests Act.
The wording and purpose of the Forests Act made it clear that the definition of finished or manufactured indigenous timber product contained was intended to ensure value is added to indigenous timber before it is exported, the court ruled.
To be lawfully exported, an item must be a product in itself and in its final or kitset form, and it must be ready either to be used or to be installed into a larger structure, the court ruled.
A tabletop, which was not a product in its own right, therefore could not be exported, and logs with surface carving were unlikely to meet the definition, the court ruled. of
Swamp kauri timber is milled from kauri trees that have been preserved in peat swamps for between 800 and 60,000 years.