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Lockwood & Co Can’t See Forests For The Trees

With the official APEC meetings starting tomorrow, and today’s release of an industry report assessing the New Zealand Forest Industry’s performance after 15 years of economic reform and deregulation, GATT Watchdog has slammed the Government support for a controversial global trade agreement on forest products, which critics dub “the global free logging agreement”.

Minister for International Trade, Lockwood Smith will release the Forest Research/NZ Forest Industries Council report this afternoon in Wellington.

“After failure to reach consensus within APEC, the proposal to eliminate remaining tariffs on forest products has been shunted off to the WTO. Along with Canada and the US, the Government wants to eliminate tariffs on all forest and paper products by 2000 for “developed” countries and 2003 for “developing” ones, which will increase the production and consumption of wood products. The American Forest and Paper Association, an industry lobby group, says consumption could increase by 3-4% worldwide if tariffs come down,” says GATT Watchdog organiser Aziz Choudry, in Auckland to help organise the APEC Monitoring Group’s Alternatives to The APEC Agenda forum, opposed to APEC.

GATT Watchdog is still awaiting the outcome of an investigation and review by the Ombudsman into the response of government ministries to Official Information Act requests made in April for information on New Zealand’s involvement in pushing for a global free logging agreement at both APEC and the WTO.

“Thanks to New Zealand’s open investment policy, the New Zealand forestry sector is dominated by transnational timber titans like International Paper and Weyerhaeuser which have no loyalty to local communities or workers, respect for the rights of Maori, or the environmental impact of their operations. And they are clearly scared of public debate on the issues.”

“Recent Overseas Investment Commission statistics show that 68% of all land sales to overseas investors between 1991-97 were for forestry purposes. Meanwhile local forestry jobs have continued to be lost, even as both industry and government promise great benefits from increased market access and further trade liberalisation in this sector.”

“The global forestry industry seeks to eliminate restrictions on where, when and how to log so production and profits increase. It wants to open up world markets to forest products so more is sold, and expand an enforceable global framework of rules to protect its rights to profit. As well as tariffs, industry is gunning for non-tariff measures – like import restrictions on forest products that carry invasive pests, log export bans on endangered timber, certifying or eco-labelling schemes.”

Mr Choudry said: “The Chilean Central Bank Natural Accounts Programme estimates that if present forestry practices continue, Chile’s native forests will disappear by 2025. Meanwhile in Malaysia, last year’s APEC host country, over half of the trees felled are for export. Little of the 70-80% forest cover in 1945 Peninsular Malaysia remains today.”

“The global and local timber industry and their allies in government cannot hide behind their PR strategy with empty promises of more jobs and “sustainable logging practices” any longer, especially after the recent Timberlands / Shandwicks fiasco and the ongoing job losses in the sector.”

“This report will just be more free market feelgood hype. The government admits it has no plans to conduct an assessment of the impact of this proposed forest agreement on New Zealand forests or those of the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. It clearly can’t see the forests for the trees!”


ENDS

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