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Those involved in imported tropical timbers in New Zealand have come a long way from the environmental "dark ages " of the 1980's and 90's when Greenpeace took action and demonstrated in front of several timber merchant yards .These events motivated members of the New Zealand timber industry in 1991 to meet, and take stock of the situation .It was felt that NZ was a small enough country to bring all the parties together and discuss issues face to face rather than through the media. Positive outcomes rather than public slanging matches was the objective.

In 1992,under the inaugural chairmanship of concerned young timber merchant, Jim Willet of Benchmark, the Imported Tropical Timber Group was formed.

In 1994,our Charter of Understanding was agreed, and under its terms, the Group, including the Green Movement NGOs, Timber Importers, Plywood Importers Timber Merchant -Retailers, Furniture Manufacturers, Furniture Importers, and other interested parties including a NZ Government MAF official as an "observer", meets at least three times a year.

The Group has had the benefit over the years of several outstanding chairpersons and group representatives to whom I give tribute. They have created a platform on which the charter has been developed, membership has been increased, and a forum where members, in an informed and trusting environment, now report formally on import statistics, monitor the Group performance, discuss eco-supply options, certification bodies and standards, international developments, and generally debate the "health" of our forest product imports. Whilst mostly limiting ourselves to tropical forestry in the initial stages, the Group now covers all forest imports including species from Canada, America and continental Europe.

The Group is now widely recognised throughout New Zealand industry and government circles.

The way forward requires all parties, be they local forest communities, forestry companies, or national governments, to agree the" big picture" and to realistically but firmly plan to transit out of destructive short term forestry to sustainable long term forestry, over a given period.

The ITTG has been through several "transition phases" with different species, product ranges and supplying countries. With several countries ITTG members have worked to influence and change the practises of overseas producers to conform to the ITTG charter. This transition may in fact start, simply by ensuring the legality of ownership and supply, often no easy task. But over an agreed period of time certification will develop from verified legal to certified sustainable, our real objective.

The wheel is turning, the environmental trend is becoming mainstream, and members of ITTG have shared much information, experience and effort to bring to the New Zealand industry a shared vision. But New Zealand is a small player in world terms, and countries such as China and India have a burgeoning consumption of wood products. Can the ITTG example be exported to countries such as those??

Apart from scale, the willingness of the New Zealand market to pay for sustainable production is of vital importance. The ITTG will need to put plenty of thought and effort into transferring the true environmental value into the market price for the vision to come into effect long term.

There is much to do.

M R Scott



Friday 2nd November