Saving the sawn timber market

The sawn timber industry is seen as being relatively small, but it is a significant component of the Solomon Islands economy, similar in value to other important export commodities such as coconut and cocoa.

Annual export of sawn timber is valued at around SBD80million (AUD14m), making it a significant export earner however this represents only 5% of the larger round log export sector, the country’s highest export earner. The industry provides employment for 1,500 people and supports the livelihoods of about 9,000 rural families who are involved in harvesting in various provinces around the country.

From left: SITPEA members Julius Houria, Beryl Pitatina and Shabella Rathamana visiting New Zealand timber importer Malcolm Scott. PC: Andrew Piper

Market access at risk

Issues of illegal logging have sparked global concern and governments and industries worldwide have moved to strengthen legal frameworks to better regulate the trade of wood and forest products.

In 2012, the Australian Government announced that it would introduce legislation to ensure its imports comply with strict legal sourcing requirements. New Zealand industry groups also indicated their intention to close market access for Solomon Islands’ timber unless adequate progress was made to improve legality assurance and sustainability.

Australia and New Zealand are the main markets for sawn timber representing 60-70% of exports.

Access to these markets would be lost if exporters failed to demonstrate that their timber had been legally sourced, in compliance with local laws and regulations.

Another market access issue was timber quality and compliance with product standards, the majority of timber exported by Solomon Islands is undried and rough sawn, a raw product subject to extensive reprocessing by importers. In addition, variable quality of Solomon Islands timber was also an issue for importers who factored this into their pricing.

Getting out of the woods

With market access at risk, collaborations were formed with stakeholders from the public and private sectors in Solomon Islands and the Australia and New Zealand-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program to maintain access to Australia and New Zealand as the primary markets for sawn timber.

Since 2013, PHAMA has worked with industry and government to provide a range of technical support, leading to some notable developments, including:

  • The establishment of a Timber Industry Working Group (TIWG) in 2013 which led to the establishment of the Solomon Islands Timber Processors and Exporters Association (SITPEA) as an independent industry body;
  • Development of Timber Legality Assurance Guidelines for Solomon Islands and subsequently the co-endorsement of Country Specific Guidelines for Solomon Islands under the Australian illegal logging legislation, assisting Australian importers to conduct due diligence on timber from Solomon Islands;
  • Following engagement with the New Zealand industry, the adoption of an internationally recognised legality verification system (NEPCon) to comply with New Zealand’s market access requirements and strengthen export legality and chain of custody.
  • Trade missions for Solomon Islands industry and government officials to meet timber buyers and industry representatives in Australia and New Zealand to clarify standards and establish new business relationships;
  • Working with SITPEA and importers in Australian and New Zealand to establish ‘certification levy’ on exports to ensure that SITPEA can meet the costs of NEPCon certification on an ongoing basis; and
  • Improving sawn timber quality and further value-adding through timber drying for export markets. PHAMA facilitated the procurement of a solar kiln to help producers and exporters produce dried timber and has worked with industry partners to conduct training in timber processing.

A growing industry

While the logging sector is currently the largest export earner in the Solomon Islands – generating about AUD350m in recent years – it faces rapid decline due to unsustainable extraction rates.

In contrast, the sawn timber industry offers a sustainable export industry if it is well managed, because of its relatively low extraction rates and use of species that are restricted from sale as round logs. These include the high-value hardwoods: Rosewood (Pterocarpus indicus), Vitex (Vitex cofassus) and Kwila (Intsia bijuga).

The value of sawn timber exports has been steadily increasing, and by 2020, PHAMA will have made a direct contribution of approximately AUD11m to ensure ongoing market access for Solomon Islands sawn timber exports.

PHAMA’s support towards the Solomon Islands sawn timber industry is aligned with its objective to maintain and improve existing market access by developing the capacity of the public and private sectors to meet the requirements of markets. PHAMA also provides assistance in meeting export regulations, such as compliance with international standards.

For further information, contact Andrew Piper at or on +677 22365

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