Forestry Minister Shane Jones wants to create a log barging facility at Hicks Bay and turn the area into a Special Economic Zone. The move would be part of protecting New Zealand's forests from being depleted by India and China, he said.
It follows his announcement last week to strengthen New Zealand's wood processing sector with new measures to help the industry, including a log buyer registration scheme that would see more logs processed onshore and provide better job certainty in regional communities.
"I sought a Cabinet mandate to stop the wholesale loss of our raw material to India and China, and insist that anyone selling overseas must be registered.” the Minister said.
Cabinet had directed officials to pursue the measures and Minister Jones said intends to report back early next year.
On Sunday, he told Stuff he wanted to make the Hicks Bay area a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which would see the area's business and trade laws differ from the rest of the country.
Under this he would get an act of Parliament to open up the "blue highway" to barge logs up north or to other parts of the country.
The Minister said the isolated area had huge amounts of land that already have some forestry assets, but people were struggling to harvest profitably because of the distance to key port infrastructure.
Minister Jones said the majority of the country's forestry industry was foreign-owned and historically had a free hand in sending logs overseas, but felt no obligation to support local jobs or local processors.
The northern forests had been allowed to be harvested and disproportionately sent to India and there was now quite a depressing prospect, that unless the processors could gain access to raw material over the next couple of years, they were going to be laying people off, he said.
"I think that has to change. I think that as forestry expands, their social licence requires them to sustain local communities, which is the purpose of the registery.” the Minister said.