Rethink China Timber Exports: Back Australian Manufacturers

Millions of tonnes of quality sawlog have been exported, but surely we can do better.

Wed 24 May 23


It was interesting to note that last Thursday’s news about China lifting its ban on importing timber from Australia was widely praised.

As a lifetime practicing forester and CEO of the South Australian Timber Processors Association, I have difficulty understanding how some of our learned industry members praised the proposed resumption of this activity.

I feel that it is vital that we fully understand the definitions of some words. The word ‘timber,’ irrespective of which dictionary one refers to, means wood … wood grown for the purposes of the building (or similar).

Before praising this activity, we should take a look at five factors:
  • Some small sawmills in the Green Triangle region face suspension of supply contracts and potential financial failure over the next two years.
  • The disastrous bushfires in southern New South Wales and north-eastern Victoria have had a catastrophic effect on supply to major sawmills, establishing a rail link to supply logs from northern New South Wales.
  • Australia is a net importer of construction timber and will continue to be such until we establish significant areas of new plantations.
  • Lack of transparency in the pricing of domestic sawlog.
  • Cessation of harvesting native forests, for example, Victoria and Western Australia.

We have no problem whatsoever in exporting some wood products to China or any other country. Still, the condition or the proviso must be that raw material is not required for the Australian domestic wood processing industry.

Report: Aussie logs for Aussie jobs

Millions of tonnes of quality sawlog were exported from the Port of Portland and other ports in Australia mainly between 2012 and 2017, encouraged by prices that exceeded the domestic market, possibly resulting in long-term domestic supply issues.

‘’Aussie logs for Aussie jobs’’, the results of the House of Representatives bipartite committee of the federal government inquiry into the timber supply chain, published in March 2021, made several recommendations, including establishing a voluntary code of conduct for the industry.

‘’Inquiry participants suggested that a solution to this problem (pricing transparency) lies in developing a voluntary code of conduct for the timber industry to facilitate long-term timber supply contracts between producers and processors for the mutual benefit of both.

It is anticipated that such an arrangement would better support the growth of an efficient domestic processing sector while reducing the risks to plantation owners inherent in relying on export markets.’’

The implementation of the committee’s findings, in my opinion, would greatly assist in securing the long-term financial viability of domestic timber processors and sustainability for future generations.

Exporting timber by plantation owners pursuing short-term financial benefits should not be allowed to resume.



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