Minister: Overseas investment rules for review

Wednesday 22 Jan 2020

Officials will look in the new year at whether recent changes to foreign investment rules for forestry need to be “tweaked” to deliver better land use outcomes, Forestry Minister Shane Jones says.

Planting for expansion of the country’s forestry industry and as a carbon sink to help meet the country’s emission reduction targets depends on getting the right trees in the right places, he said.

Officials have already been reviewing the national environmental standard for plantation forestry this year. Jones said he will meet with Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, Forestry New Zealand head Julie Collins and former forestry company PF Olsen chief executive Peter Clark early next year to test whether changes to the Overseas Investment Act are also working as intended.

Jones said he’s not convinced new rules intended to fast-track land purchases for afforestation are creating a “Klondike effect” that is distorting land use patterns. Drylandcarbon’s development plans for Te Puna station inland from Wairoa – announced last week - show that productive land can be protected while also planting land not suitable for plantation forestry, he said.

Billion trees

Jones, also the minister for regional economic development, has led the government’s programme to plant a billion trees over 10 years to expand the country’s carbon sink, stabilise erosion-prone land and reinvigorate the country’s forestry and wood processing industry.

Critics, particularly in areas like Hawke’s Bay, the East Coast and Wairarapa, which experienced similar planting programmes in past decades, point to the risk of rural depopulation if productive farm land is lost to forestry.

Jones said there is marginal land that should be permanently planted, but he doesn’t resile from expanding plantation forestry. He said it had always been a part of rural industry and many farmers were comfortable with that as an option.

“It’s still got a big role to play.”

What many farmers were less comfortable with, he said, was locking up land permanently for carbon sinks, and there needs to be confidence that where that is being done, it is being undertaken appropriately.

Forestry NZ data provided by Jones’s office showed that as at Oct. 31, the Overseas Investment Office had processed 30 applications under the special forestry test created a year earlier. While the applications were for 74,580 hectares, the vast bulk of that was existing forests, with only 8,811 ha being new land to be converted to forestry.

Land mix

New planting under the billion trees programme and land registrations under the emissions trading scheme also show most is being carried out on lower value land.

Land-use capability measures grade land 1 to 8 according to its physical character, fertility and climate. A rating higher than four is generally unsuitable for vegetables or arable crops, while a rating of eight is unsuitable for even lower-value grazing or production forestry.

As at Oct. 31, 89 percent of the 8,931 hectares to be planted under grants through the one billion trees programme - 1BT - were classed LUC 6-8.

As at Sept. 30, 2,994 ha of forest had been registered under the emissions trading scheme, compared with 1,822 ha for all of 2018. Of the 2019 registrations, about 87 percent was for class 6-8 land, compared with 72 percent in 2018. Registrations on class 1-5 land so far this year total 384 ha, compared with 504 ha in 2018.

About half of all 2019 registrations so far have been for indigenous planting, compared with less than 1.5 percent in 2018.

“An increasing area of new ETS registrations is in the LUC 6-8 category, of which an increasing area is for indigenous tree species,” Forestry NZ notes in a slide. “These plantings are driven by the carbon market – not grant 1BT funded.”

Source: Business Desk

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