NZ Election 2020: Forestry industry says Labour and National's policies 'disappointing'

Industry leaders say comments by politicians in both parties are unfounded and negative.
Industry leaders say comments by politicians in both parties are unfounded and negative. Photo credit: Getty

The forestry industry has slammed policies by both Labour and National as "disappointing" and says the sector should be seen as a lifeline for rural communities, not a threat.

Phil Taylor, president of the Forest Owners Association, says the forestry industry is being unfairly demonised by many politicians ahead of the upcoming election and says the policies of the two major parties jeopardise New Zealand's post-COVID economic recovery.

His comments come as forestry has received increased scrutiny after the controversial Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) passed earlier this year.

With the country's goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, the ETS has effectively turned carbon into a currency. People receive credits for planting trees which can then be sold to companies to offset their emissions. 

At the time the bill passed, Minister for Climate Change James Shaw said the scheme was one of the most effective tools the country has for reducing climate-polluting emissions. But many fear the bill incentivises the acceleration of productive farmland being converted to pines planted for carbon credits.

In July, Labour said it would make some changes to the ETS - such as requiring resource consent for plantation of carbon forests of more than 50 hectares on "elite soils", those that are more suitable for agricultural production - if it is elected back into office at the election.

The party said the revisions would "ensure rural communities are well supported" and make sure that "our food-producing soil will be our number one priority".

On Tuesday Taylor said Labour's comments implying forestry threatens rural communities were simply untrue. He said a recent PwC report on forestry compared with farm economies showed forestry should be seen as a lifeline for some rural communities, not as a threat.

Hamish Levack, president of the Farm Forestry Association, said comments by some in the National Party were "equally unfounded and negative".

"National leader Judith Collins has complained that pine trees give her hay fever while others in her caucus have complained that plantation forestry planting should be restricted," Levack said.

Taylor also pointed towards National's plan to review the treatment of forestry in the ETS and remove the streamlined process for forestry applications in the Overseas Investment Office test. 

"If this is a genuine attempt by National to severely decrease industrial greenhouse gas emissions over the next few years, then that is wonderful," he said.

"In the meantime though, National needs to understand forestry is a vital short-term tool to get New Zealand through the transition."