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19 February 1998
Professor Bruce Ros, who was Director-General of Agriculture before being appointed to the new role as head of the merged Ministry, told the Forest Industries 98 Conference in Rotorua today that forestry industry is far too important to risk losing its status in the merger between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Forestry.
"In particular, I want to assure you that the Government will not pull away from the drive to achieve market access for New Zealand timber," Professor Ross said, adding that the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Hon. Lockwood Smith, was passionate about this.
"Technical information will also be made available as before, for example, the National Exotic Forest Description joint project with industry will continue."
However, Professor Ross said information might be provided in a different form, such as raw data, meaning that the Ministry would no longer be producing some of its glossy forestry publications.
"This provides opportunities for other people to pick up. There have already been approaches from people interested in continuing with this more sophisticated retail-oriented activity."
The Director-General said forestry investment is another area where the focus would not be as strong. "This is not because Government doesn't care, but because it sees its role as one of setting up a wider framework within which industry can make itself attractive to investors.
"So, we will be focussing on the tasks appropriate to a Government organisation, specifically policy, standard setting, border and certification operations and management of Crown contracts and assets."
He said it would be up to industry to pick up the tasks that it regards as important to it, but which the Government no longer considers appropriate for taxpayer funding- for instance technology transfer, marketing and promotions.
The new Ministry's mission is to help the Government create an environment allowing the food, fibre and timber industries to make the best contribution to sustainable economic growth and environmental quality, while managing risk to human, animal and plant health and safety, and to resources.
The theme of the Conference is "A Sustainable Future for Forestry, Securing the environmental and economic sustainability of the New Zealand and international forest industries". Professor Ross said that outcome could only come through a creative partnership between Government
He told the audience that while the Government portions of the forestry industry were being restructured, agriculture already faced an environment in which the Government had moved away from its direct involvement with the industry.
"Subsequent Ministry of Agriculture restructurings have further reduced the Government's role in agriculture, and now this is also happening with forestry.
"The roles, and therefore to some extent the cultures of the two ministries, have to date been quite different, despite the fact that they are working with the same basic resources of land, water and climate. This division could not continue," he said.
Separate from the merger, though now associated with it in timing, was the new challenge posed to the forest industry by the Government's decision to cease purchasing forestry facilitation activities from the new ministry. The Minister of Forestry, Lockwood Smith, said in his media statement at the time of announcing the decision that these were services which the private sector could provide perfectly well.
The decision to cease facilitation services will result in Government savings of $2 million, which will initially be used to help fund the eradication of the tussock moth.
"The forestry industry has already faced and met some very significant challenges and it is well equipped to do so again," Professor Ross told the Conference. "But it's not a challenge the industry is being asked to face alone. The Government will still be involved, albeit in a very different way, and there will be a transition phase to the new relationship, the details of which are being worked out in consultation with all parties involved."
He said an example of this was that two Ministry of Forestry forestry development staff would be going to the Forest Industry Engineering Association, where they would continue their technology transfer role.
"This is in response to the forest owners and wood processing companies' concerns about the withdrawal of support on the operating efficiencies, productive capability and international competitiveness of New Zealand's maturing wood processing industry.
"Because of these concerns, the new Ministry has agreed that they will pursue an exit strategy rather than an immediate cessation of Government funding for some of the forestry facilitation services. As such, the Ministry has agreed to additional funding to allow FIEA to be contracted to provide these wood processing facilitation services."
Professor Ross said a further issue which the forestry industry was particularly concerned about was the possible loss of forestry knowledge from the new ministry, but he assured delegates that forestry is represented across the spectrum in the new Ministry - in the forest management and policy groups, regulatory authority and operations.
"There will still be people out there in the regions as part of the policy group. They will have their ears to the ground, reflecting back in their advice to the Minister what is happening in the industry at grassroots levels."
In addition, he said biosecurity had been given a significant boost with the creation of a new position. "The Deputy Director-General will have oversight responsibility in this important area ensuring the right balance of import controls, border quarantine services, pest and disease surveillance and emergency response capability is applied across the forestry sector as it has been in the agriculture sector. He will advise me where the resource pressures are and how they might be fixed."
As part of the new ministry's core business we will continue to work on:
"In addition, we will continue to provide forestry advice and information of the highest standard to Government," Professor Ross said.
Media inquiries to:
Director, Corporate Communications,
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
(025) 465 870
For full copies of the speech contact:
Gita Parsot, MAF Corporate Communications, (04) 498 9806