Half-year earnings from log exports pegged at US$8.7M

-figures challenge growth credited to plywood expansion

Log exports for the first six months of this year were valued at US$8.7 million, compared to less than US$1 million for plywood, challenging Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh’s recent report that the 31.3% increase in timber export earnings was due to “an expansion in plywood exports.”

Stabroek News reported yesterday that log exports rose by a whopping 80% in the first half of this year, while plywood exports increased by 4.3%. The data came from the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), which cited figures supplied by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC). Yesterday, further data obtained by Stabroek News showed that log exports from January to June this year were valued at US$8,726,893 while for the same period, plywood exports were valued at US$973,925. The organization supplying the data also cited the GFC as the source for the figures.

Government has been tightlipped on log export numbers and the figures supplied to the two organisations stand in contrast to Singh’s report and raises serious questions. In a lengthy statement yesterday, the GFC did not address nor dispute the log exports figures reported by Stabroek News.

Singh, in the recent mid-year report on the economy, said that the forestry sector grew by almost 40% for the first six months of the year. According to his report, the sector recorded growth of 38.1%, “supported by the introduction of new incentives to harvesters and sustained demand from the construction sector and furniture manufacturing subsector.” This was not explained.

As a consequence, the growth target for the sector has been revised upwards significantly from the budgeted 3.3% to 15% growth for 2014. The report said that timber export earnings rose to US$21.3 million, a 31.3% increase due to an increase in export volume, “reflecting an expansion in plywood exports.”

The ITTO, meanwhile, reported that log exports rose 80% and account for over 70% of all wood product exports from Guyana. The ITTO reported that log exports for the first half of this year amounted to 54 376 cubic metres compared to 30 356 cubic metres for the same period last year. In contrast, plywood exports for the first half of this year amounted to 1931 cubic metres from 1851 cubic metres for the same period last year, an increase of 4.3%.

According to the ITTO report, for the first half of the year, wood product exports were worth US$21.8 million while for the same period last year, exports totalled US$16.9 million. The report said that exports of seven products account for over 90% of Guyana’s international trade in wood products which grew by 51% in 2014 compared to the first half of 2013. Log exports accounted for over 70% of all wood product exports.

The figures supplied to Stabroek News yesterday were similar to those reported by the ITTO.

Stabroek News has been trying to obtain log export figures for some time now but the authorities have refused to provide these numbers.

Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud when contacted recently said that he was travelling and did not respond to an emailed reminder sent last week. GFC Commissioner James Singh, citing a “bad experience” with a reporter, recently told Stabroek News that any information would have to be “formally” requested from the GFC in writing with the request copied to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Over the past few days, media reports on the operations of Chinese logging company Bai Shan Lin and Indian logging firm Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc (VHPI) have seen the companies as well as the GFC and Ministry of Natural Resources defending the operations of the firms. However, no figures for log exports were provided by the companies or government agencies.

The GFC in an ad which “responded” to a claim that “log exports have risen by 60 percent for the first half of 2014” did not focus on log exports. Instead, the GFC said: “the first half of 2014 reflects a 53% increase in the exports of wood products, not only logs.”

Based on the GFC’s own figures, log exports have increased by 80% and the reason as to why this was not clearly stated is unclear.

Over the past few years, exports of logs rather than processing the timber locally has long been a concern since numerous promises have been made by the government and foreign investors about value-added operations. The promise of value-added has been seen as sugar coating to enable the export of large quantities of logs, particularly to China and India, even though there is little job creation here or value enhancement.

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