China's effective ban on Australian timber imports is biting Tasmania, with about 100 jobs already lost as a result of the unilateral restrictions, and more still at risk of getting the chop.
Earlier this month, a notice from Chinese customs officials confirmed that Tasmanian and South Australian timber imports would be banned from entering China due to claims that a pest known as a bark beetle had been detected in a log shipment. It came after timber from Victoria and Queensland had already been locked out.
According to the South China Morning Post, China's customs agency announced last week that it would now be banning timber imports from New South Wales and Western Australia, as well, after "live forest pests" were supposedly found in logs that had come from the two states.
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Tasmanian Forest Products Association chief executive Nick Steel said the impact of the bans was already being felt within Tasmania's timber industry, confirming that about 100 jobs had so far been lost.
"It is ... around that mark and it may be increasing," Mr Steel said of the job losses.
"It's contractors who are really affected at this stage.
"For the longer term in the forest industry, it's looking positive, because we've got obviously a great sustainable industry here. So it's all about timing. If we can reduce the time whereby we can open up markets or open up wood supply again for our logs, that's going to be the big key."
Tasmania primarily exports pulp wood to China, and Mr Steel said discussions were being had between the industry and the state and federal governments regarding the pursuit of greater downstream processing opportunities and the potential to consolidate other international export markets.
"There's always a proportion of wood that will be exported but I think as a nation or even as a state, if we can actually do further downstream processing, we can actually look at more jobs," he said. "But also it gives you that security that we've got that market here."
It's contractors who are really affected at this stage.Nick Steel, Tasmanian Forest Products Association chief executive
State Trade Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the Tasmanian government was monitoring the situation with China's timber bans "very, very closely" and was in "regular contact" with the federal government about it.
"We need to do all we can to resolve this current dispute so we can support all our exporters getting back to a good, strong business relationship with the people they deal with individually in China," Mr Rockliff said.
"But also diversifying our markets is very, very important."
Tasmanian Liberal senator and Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonathon Duniam said he was "engaging closely" with the forestry industry and working "at all levels" to find a resolution to the issue as soon as possible.
"Australia produces world-class timber and we are committed to helping exporters expand into new markets," he said.
"That's why we are investing more than $72 million to help australian forestry and farming exporters diversify and expand their customer base."
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