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Will PNG really stop log exports in 2025? part one

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In his inaugural address to Papua New Guinea’s new national parliament on August 9, 2022, Prime Minister James Marape pledged, among other things, that his government was “committed to stopping all log exports by 2025 “. It wasn’t exactly a new promise. Forestry Minister Karl Stack promised to impose a moratorium on log exports in 1990, but then broke his promise. His successor delayed certification of the new forestry law for 12 months so that he could issue a whole series of new log export licenses before it came into force in 1992. In 2009, the Somare government proposed a plan to term, called Vision 2050, which boldly declared that round log exports would be banned immediately. Forestry Minister Belden Namah was not so bold. Its new version of the National Forestry Development Guidelines, published the same year, only said that all New logging permits issued from early 2010 would be for logging operations with “100 percent processing only”.

When Marape took over leadership from Peter O’Neill in 2019, with a promise to “take back PNG” from foreign capitalists, Forestry Minister Solan Mirisim quickly convened a national forestry summit to discuss ways and means by which the logs would be “taken”. return” ships taking them to China and processed in PNG to be sold in domestic and international markets. Since then, a succession of ministerial and prime ministerial statements (see, for example, The National August 2021, October 2021 and September 2022) made various commitments on what needs to happen before the 2025 deadline. Logging companies would be required to partner with government in the “downstream space”; no new concessions would be granted to companies without a transformation plan; log export permits would only be granted to owner companies; half of the total log harvest should be processed on land; and no new concessions would be granted until the PNG Forestry Authority conducted a review of all existing concessions.

For more than 30 years, the national debate on this subject has circulated in two familiar circles. On the one hand, logging industry representatives and donor-funded consultants have repeatedly pointed out that a ban on the export of logs from indigenous forests would not serve to expand “downstream space” to the beyond a small margin, basically because the costs are too great and the demand is too limited, so there is no profit to be made. According to this argument, downstream processing in PNG only makes economic sense if the raw material is harvested from timber plantations, but it has proven nearly impossible to expand the area of ​​timber plantations on customary lands. because the owners are not prepared to wait 20 or 30 years before reaping any benefit from the harvest.

On the other hand, environmental activists and civil society actors have supported a log export ban for reasons of their own. Not because they see a bright future for domestic manufacturing of timber or wood furniture, but rather because they see the logging industry as a threat to biodiversity values, a source of emissions unnecessary greenhouse gases and a corrupting influence on the body politic.

These arguments are never resolved because no government has ever imposed any real limit on round log exports. So why should we expect the Marape government to keep any of its promises, and what will likely happen if it does or doesn’t?

It would be easier to answer these questions if the PNG Forestry Authority were not such a secret body. Forestry officials need to have an idea of ​​how many logs are being processed on land and where this activity is taking place, as they are responsible for ensuring that local landowners receive the timber royalties due to them. , whether the logs are exported or not. Forest officials also need to know the number of concessions granted each year, the conditions attached to them, and the time period before they expire. But none of this information is deemed fit for public consumption. Most of the relevant statistical information should therefore be taken from the annual reports of SGS PNG Ltd, the company contracted by the government to monitor round log exports since 1996.

In my Devpol discussion paper, I showed how the recent pattern of round log exports from different types of logging concessions must make us doubt that the current government’s promises or threats should be taken too seriously. In the next blog, I summarize my analysis.

This is the first blog in a two-part series. Read the Devpolicy discussion paper, “Papua New Guinea’s forests are in the spotlight again.”

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