Last nights announcement that the Whakatāne Board Mill’s Swiss owner, SIG, is proposing to close the facility is a significant blow to the local economy. Employing over 200 highly skilled staff and a major processor of NZ wood fibre, the Mill is the backbone of the local Whakatane economy.

Toi EDA is acutely aware of the impact that this will have on many of the town, with most people in the community knowing someone employed in the operation. Toi EDA will work with management to ensure the impact is minimised where possible.

Chair of Toi EDA, John Galbraith, is confident that with the right support and leadership the Board Mill can be repositioned and looks forward to working alongside the Mill team and government to explore all possible alternatives.

Today the Whakatane Mill produces packaging for some of the world’s leading food brands. High grade folding box board for the food service and retail packaging is in increasing demand and the global trend away from single use packaging is accelerating demand. This technology is highly aligned with the government’s own strategy of removing single use plastics from circulation. The Prime Minister recently acknowledged the leadership role that the Mill plays in this world leading packaging type.

Toi EDA is requesting assistance from central government to find solutions that will allow for the continued operations of the facility. The recent strategic review of the Norske Skogg Mill in Kawerau shows that the entire wood fibre processing sector is facing continued challenges and a proactive and coordinated approach to supporting this sector needs to be undertaken. Today New Zealand’s forests are being exported in their log form to China and other markets, rather than having the value added to them locally. This remains a risk as China have declared their intent of becoming self-sufficient in lumber within 20 years. In many cases the wood processing sectors receive significant subsidies from their governments which makes competitive production in New Zealand a significant challenge. This is despite New Zealand’s competitive advantage of having one of the world’s largest sustainable plantation forests and renewable energy.

Toi EDA encourages cross-sector collaboration with government to invest in technologies to produce highly relevant products, such as compostable coffee cups. Today cardboard coffee cups have plastic coatings that prevent them from being recycled and therefore the majority end up in landfill.

The Whakatāne Board Mill is an important part of the wood processing value chain in the Eastern Bay, where many of the Mills and wood processors provide raw materials and share overheads. Removing the Whakatāne Board Mill from the matrix will likely reduce the efficiency of the other Mills in the region, which is a significant concern, and create further head winds.

John Galbraith encourages the government to invest in the region to ensure that the maximum value of the wood processing sector is retained in New Zealand, while retaining the high value jobs locally.