Posted on Thursday 15th November 2018
Exporters of Swamp Kauri slabs can’t get away with calling them “table tops” or misrepresenting the
logs as “totem or temple poles” say New Zealand’s top judges.
The Supreme Court says such practices are illegal under the Forests Act, thus vindicating a challenge
by the Northland Environmental Protection Society, which has challenged the Ministry of Primary
Industries, Customs Department and Ministry of Culture and Heritage through the courts to close
down the export trade in unimproved slabs and logs of the rare and lucrative resource.
A slab of swamp kauri labelled a table top would not fit the definition of manufactured product in
the Act, say the judges.
"The use as a table could not be discerned from the product itself. Further, a table top is not a
product in its own right and thus is not ready to be installed in a larger structure."
Their ruling means that unless a Swamp Kauri exporter turns slabs into a real piece of furniture, the
loophole under which this timber has been exported to date is now closed.
The Forests Act defines a manufactured product for export as needing to be sent over the wharves
"without the need for further machining or other modification”.
The judges say: "A single component cannot come in kitset form. Nor can it sensibly be said to have
been assembled. Further, this interpretation would in many cases subvert the purpose of ensuring
value is added in New Zealand.
"Accordingly, an indigenous wood product that is the component of an item is one that forms part
of a product in its own right and either has been assembled and is ready to install or is in kitset form
and ready to be installed once assembled."
They also say that logs would "require modification before being ready for use or installation –
merely labelling a log a totem or temple pole does not change this.
"A log cannot be a finished or manufactured indigenous timber product unless the work on it is so
extensive that it has lost its identity as a log. Surface carving or decoration, however elaborate, is
unlikely to cause such a loss of identity. In most cases, any value added in New Zealand by surface
carving or decoration is likely to be minimal."
As for table tops, adding legs or other mountings or producing the product as a self-assembly kitset
would not be enough to get around the law, although "a crafted rustic bespoke table would clearly
come within" the legal definition of a value-added product, "even if the table had a table top that,
considered alone, could be classified as rough sawn timber".
The judges have urged Parliament to reconsider how the Forests Act treats Swamp Kauri, given that
the legislation's focus is mainly on living trees and because Kauri itself is threatened by the Kauri
dieback disease. Nor was it clear that exports of Swamp Kauri stumps should be allowed, even
though the export of stumps of recently felled kauri is permitted.
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