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Import substitution - Report

By Karen Bayne; Jonathan Harrington; Colleen Chittenden; Russell McKinley; Rosie Sargent, January 2024.

In order to supplement New Zealand’s native timber supply, exotic species were introduced throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, to support both domestic structural and specialty purpose applications. Despite attempts to supply the domestic market with New Zealand-grown specialty purpose exotics, with the exception of radiata pine, volumes have been intermittent and instead most of the specialty timbers used in New Zealand are now from imports.

Major concerns from the New Zealand wood sector to the utilisation of imported species are threefold:

  • A reliance on old-growth tropical timbers, which may not be sustainably harvested, or which may be more difficult to source in future.
  • The increasing volumes of imported timbers entering the domestic market, particularly in the decking, flooring and furniture markets.
  • Exported New Zealand -grown radiata being re-imported into New Zealand in the form of higher-value products.

To address these concerns, an understanding of current requirements of timber importers and timber designers (architecture and furniture) that drive the use of imported timber was made to determine:

  • What is the current specialty timber resource base within New Zealand?
    • Current species in the ground and being harvested
    • Imported timbers or finished goods available for use in building projects
  • What timber species are being imported, and why?
  • How are architects and designers selecting timbers for projects?

Results show the key factors driving timber imports are consistent and reliable supplies, short lead times for projects, dedicated sales agents, proven or known performance of the timber for the application, and an ability to provide a range of aesthetics (stains and surface treatments).

In contrast, the barriers to using New Zealand-grown timber supplies at scale include unknown current and future wood supply, unproven or inconsistent wood quality, lack of central marketing or sales support agency, and lack of clarity on how to source (by specifiers) or supply (to end users) the timbers.

To substitute current imported species with New Zealand-grown specialty timbers will require: a) improved mapping of the New Zealand-grown resource to provide future in-ground estimates of timber availability, b) the establishment of a dedicated ‘sales desk’ advocating timber species and products, arranging New Zealand-grown specialty timber samples for supply chain visibility, and accessibility to local market c) a change in the way information concerning New Zealand-grown specialty timbers is presented to specifiers, and d) modification of a selection of specialty timber species to improve wood properties for use (e.g. densification, thermal modification etc.)

New Zealand-grown specialty timber supplies will need to be ‘ramped up’ in volume to make inroads into displacing imports, but increased supply should occur in a planned way. This could be through consolidation and co-operative venture to meet required supply for significant projects; or by selecting species with sufficient volumes and investing in modification technologies and grading to improve in-use performance and quality consistency.

Download the report: Import Substitution Project Interim report, by Karen Bayne; Jonathan Harrington; Colleen Chittenden; Russell McKinley; Rosie Sargent, Scion

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