Swamp kauri offer sparks MPI checks

By Peter de Graaf

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Swamp kauri is a valuable resource but exporting the wood in unfinished form is a breach of the Forests Act. Photo/File
Swamp kauri is a valuable resource but exporting the wood in unfinished form is a breach of the Forests Act. Photo/File

Government officials have checked out a company which seems to offer bulk swamp kauri on a Chinese e-commerce site but say no laws have been broken.

The rupturing of a vital fuel pipeline near Ruakaka last month - possibly after it was damaged by a digger trying to extract swamp kauri logs some years earlier - has put a spotlight back on to Northland's swamp kauri industry and sparked a flurry of tip-offs to the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

Some of those related to an Auckland company which appeared to offer slabs of swamp kauri, at a volume of up to 200cu m a month, on Alibaba.com. The asking price is US$2500-$3500 per cubic metre ($3540-$4950).

Photos accompanying the listing show stacks of kauri slabs, which cannot be exported legally, and kauri stumps, which can be exported if they meet specifications relating to length and diameter.

The company, New Zealand Forest Enterprises, is owned by James Qian, who also offers radiata pine planks and logs.

An MPI spokesman said officials checked out the company after receiving a number of tip-offs about the listing on Alibaba.

"We recently spoke to the company and it is aware of the rules. As a result we have no further concerns in relation to its activities," he said.

The photos of swamp kauri the company displayed in its listing on Alibaba had been used online since 2015. MPI did not believe they were of actual product for sale.

The spokesman said MPI inspected all exports of swamp kauri requiring permits, and worked closely with Customs, freight companies and other agencies to ensure compliance with the law.

The vast majority of New Zealand's swamp kauri comes from Northland.

MPI would not say if its lack of concern was because the company did not in fact have any swamp kauri, or had no plans to export it in unprocessed form.

Dean Baigent-Mercer, of Far North Forest and Bird, said under the Forests Act only finished products made from native timber, including swamp kauri, could be legally exported. The one exception was genuine stumps.

If the company advertising on Alibaba was only "testing the waters" it was not showing a great deal of integrity, he said.

Mr Qian told the Advocate the Alibaba ad was "very old" and he would get it taken down. He had sold a small quantity of swamp kauri in the past but had provided milling statements and complied with MPI's export rules.

MPI figures show swamp kauri exports peaked in 2013 with more than 700cu m shipped overseas. Volumes fell sharply in 2015 with the amount exported in the first half of 2017 totalling just over 80cu m. Of that, the majority, 65cu m, was sent to China with 15cu m to Italy and 0.1cu m to the US.

The rules around the extraction, milling and export of swamp kauri were tightened up in 2015 after controversy around damage to native wetlands and claims that slabs and logs were being exported with minimal processing under the guise of table tops and traditional carvings.

Meanwhile, the Northland Regional Council is continuing its investigation of the pipeline rupture.

- Northland Age

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