“The natural forests of Papua New Guinea are not public forests. They are privately owned forests, and, unless this becomes part of a forest management ethic and practice here in Papua New Guinea, it is doubtful there will be any effective base for long term goals of Forestry Policy”. Thus the Forest Industries Association sets out it’s stall, declaring what it considers to be the main obstacle to the future growth of the industry.
The Forest Industries Association slogan is “Sustained Forest Industries for PNG”. It represents the interests of the forest sector at all levels. The need for such an association dates back to the early 1950’s.
During the immediate post war period, reconstruction of war damaged centres and programmes to establish new rural centres led to a dramatic increase in domestic requirements for sawn timber. Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers (now PNG Forest Products Pty Ltd) at Bulolo began to manufacture plywood. Their major outlet was the export of prime grade marine plywood. Klinki Ply became a world wide brand name in the plywood trade. In the pre-Independence period a large amount of sawn timber was exported to Australia. The Department of Forests decided that this growing saw-milling industry should have a ‘voice’ as the industry developed. The ancestor of today’s Association was born.
In the early days the Association took an active role in negotiations with the government on industry development, royalties, infrastructure requirements, marketing and standards. It was also actively engaged with the Australian industry. As land was cleared for large scale agricultural projects, notably the Oil Palm estates in West New Britain, the export of logs began. The government realised that logging had a potential both as a source of revenue, a means of generating rural infrastructure and a means of creating rural employment.
The scope of the original Association was inadequate in the face of the rapidly changing industry. A statutory body, the Forest Industries Council, was created by Act of Parliament. Funded entirely by industry operators the Council was effective in early years but later its function became clouded and its performance declined alarmingly. The Forest Industries Association pressed for an investigation.
In 1987 there was a public war of words in the press and in Parliament over the competence of the Forest Industries Council. The council had just started large scale marking of logs on behalf of the State. A commission of enquiry was called, chaired by Judge Thomas Barnett. Its findings became notorious, unearthing specific examples of wrongdoing which were much publicised. With the passing of the Forest Act 1991, the Council was abandoned and the Forest Industries Association (Inc) was identified as the body recognised to represent the interests of the Industry. It has a position on the National Forest Board.
The membership structure is very wide, being comprised of many different types of interests including loggers, sawmillers, resource owner companies, equipment and materials suppliers, contractors and manufacturers. All have an interest in the development of a sound industry, based on the mobilization, utilization and management of the identified areas of commercial forest in PNG. Currently the Association represents 85- 90% of the commercial forest taken annually and it is always looking to increase its membership base. It is a non-profit organisation.
The Association is currently pressuring for sust ained yield management of PNG’s forest resource. Forest conditions must be monitored and maintained. Past lessons have taught that the people with the main interest in the secure development of the sector are the resource owners and resource operators. However, monitoring has to be done by trained foresters and at present there are too few and their workload is too great. The current trend is for private enterprise to supply their own foresters and to plan their own operations. There are only 150 professional and technically trained foresters in private enterprise operations, most of them national men and women trained in PNG.
The Association believes that future success for PNG’s forest industries could well depend on regulation by the government and implementation by private enterprise.
Commercial activity in the forest industry sector is dominated by log exports. In 1994 a volume of 3.1 million cubic metres of logs were exported, mainly to Japan, Korea and Taiwan. This generated export sales of approximately K490 million for the year. All logging for export is carried out under Government Authority.
As a developing country with a strong resource sector, PNG is taking steps to balance the push for the development of economic infrastructure with environmental responsibility under sustained yield guidelines. Only a third of the country is estimated to carry forest of commercial potential. Much work is yet to be done to establish the optimum level of log harvest. However, many analysts consider that PNG is well within sustainable levels on a national basis.
Processed timber exports include sawn timber and plywood and scope exists for an increase in investment in processing operations under appropriate conditions. PNG processed products are sought after for furniture manufacture and specialist uses and many more markets could be opened up under appropriate investment conditions.
Manufactured products such as furniture are a growing market, with a number of fine furniture factories using selected kiln-dried PNG timbers. PNG-made furniture is very attractive and has found appreciative markets in Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. This is one area for likely expansion of demand in the future.
In summary, the member companies of the PNG Forest Industries Association are active in resource harvesting and management, in exporting, processing and manufacture. With the further development of the forest industry sector in Papua New Guinea, the FIA looks forward to continuing its representative and liaison function.