THE forestry industry is braced for a long, drawn-out battle to get logs back in to China as Glenelg Shire braces to limit the collateral damage.
Following China’s ban on logs last Wednesday, the industry has been trying to get clarification as to what is going on.
Industry representatives had a teleconference with federal Assistant Forestry Minister Johnathan Duniam on Thursday afternoon, but when they hung up the phones they were not much further the wiser – and at loggerheads over what the problem was.
The Chinese ban followed claims a bark beetle had been found in a containerised shipment of Victorian logs – which would have come from another port, as there is no containerisation at Portland – and the ban is similar to one recently on Queensland logs.
However, the industry does not believe that is the reason.
The ongoing US-China trade war, Australia’s call for Chinese answers on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and other long-standing issues have all been advanced as reasons.
Port of Portland chief executive Greg Tremewen was among those to take part in the teleconference.
“(Senator Duniam) explained that it was not a relationship issue but a biosecurity issue,” he said.
“The representatives from the industry said they didn’t think that was a true representation of what has occurred, and they think it is a government relationship issue.
“I’m not in a position to judge either way but clearly it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with.”
Mr Tremewen said representations were made by the industry that bulk-loaded logs, as opposed to containerised ones, should be able to be allowed to continue to be exported to China “sooner rather than later”.
“(Senator Duniam) conveyed it was a complex issue and he was not sure how long it might take to resolve,” he said.
“Obviously everybody, such as the Port of Portland and the associated companies that use the port, would like to see it resolved quickly.”
China makes up more than 70 per cent of the export market for logs, and a similar amount or more of all exports from the port is destined for that country.
The concerns were echoed by the Committee for Portland.
Chairman Steve Garner said the federal government needed to negotiate with China to ensure all Victorian timber log exports could resume as soon as possible.
The industry in Portland employed up to 1000 people and a drawn-out issue would be costly.
“We are asking our state and federal politicians to step in to protect the livelihoods of regional Victorians who are involved in the export of timber logs to China,” Mr Garner said.
“The hit to the local economy alone is enormous if this ban continues any longer than it has to. It will run into hundreds of millions of dollars per annum in our region alone.”
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has said in recent days there were some talks with the Chinese about the range of Australian exports now banned.
“There are difficulties at present, and I am deeply concerned by the fact that in a number of areas, Chinese regulatory actions have disrupted trade flows,” he said.
“And we’ve been making strong and continuous arguments to China about why those sorts of regulatory decisions, hitting a number of different Australian industries are unwarranted and based on, frankly, false or misleading evidence or accusations.
“Australia is willing to come to the table… the ball is very much in China’s court, though, to be willing to sit down and engage in such a mature exchange.”
That appeared to be contradicted as far as logs went by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
“There is some credence to their claim, and we've been monitoring this for some months and trying to work through,” he said.
“But we suspect the reason is, is that the fumigation that's used on these logs hasn’t been effective because the majority of the logs that have been going over were burnt ones out of the black summer event this year.
“So, we’re trying to work, obviously, with industry and our biosecurity specialists just to work through the scientific basis around this fumigation and increasing our inspections.
“But they did notify us in June that there were some issues and then we continued to ramp up our fumigation. And we work with industry proactively to try and detect them. But we suspect that they’re coming through on these burnt logs.”
State Member for South-West Coast Roma Britnell said “it does strike me as interesting when in August 1.2 million cubic metres of German softwood logs, infected with the same beetle, were knowingly allowed to be exported to China by its government after other buyers cancelled their orders”.
“Has the Chinese government suddenly formed a change of heart over bark beetles, also prevalent in its own Anhui Province? Personally, I find that hard to believe.”