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Fiji’s Mahogany Forests Set For The Chop

Timberrrrr!!! - Fiji's plans to harvest part of its matured mahogany forests, claimed to be the largest in the world and worth billions of dollars in revenue, has been attacked by Fijians saying the Government is disposing of it at bargain prices. John Howard reports.

Negotiations by the Fiji Government for a partner to harvest and process part of what is claimed to be the world's largest mahogany forest are underway and are attracting intense international bidding.

It is also becoming an intense political issue prompting angry anti-government outbursts from Fijian's afraid they are being left out of the multi-million dollar venture.

The mahogany forests are located on returned native land and state-owned land.

The Government is willing to allow 100,000 cubic metres of the timber to be processed in the first 10 years and a further 175,000 cubic metres over the next 20 years to allow for sustainable development.

After protracted negotiations which began with former prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka, the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) was identified as the potential partner out of seven international companies which had shown interest.

Only one other bidder, an American consortium, Trans Resource Management, was short-listed but a Government statement said the company proposed to raise all its funding from bonds which were to be issued overseas and was not prepared to put any money upfront.

CDC is offering US$68 million for cutting rights to just 33.5 hectares of the mahogany, based on an evaluation by international foresty valuation group, Fortech.

This is apart from the revenue which would accrue from the processing and downstreaming of the timber, the Government said.

But the Government has been accused of selling out the lucrative timber resource to CDC at an under-valued price.

Elizabeth Clayton, a leading Fiji furniture manufacturer and director of Fiji Mahogany Products, claims the Fortech evaluation has grossly under-valued Fiji's mahogany resource.

She also accused the government of running "the disposal of the world's finest resource of mahogany behind closed doors" and selling out to foreigners because it needed the cash.

The Fiji Government, however, says all sorts of unsubstantiated figures are now being floated by people who have little or no capital to put into the venture. CDC has a proven track record it says.

"Government is placing top priority on the need for a partner to obtain certification, access to the world market, and to develop a profitable downstream timber processing industry in Fiji to get maximum value-added for a valuable export resource," a spokesman said.

But opposition parliamentarian Ratu Kinijioji Maivalili issued a blunt warning, "Do not invade our land and forests."

Several Fijian landowners are threatening to stop the harvest of the trees unless they are included in the consultations for the multi-million dollar venture.

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