By Robert Kozak
British Columbia has a long, storied tradition of generating wealth and creating opportunity through forest-based activities.
Historically, our forest strategy has been an industry producing high volumes of low-value commodity goods for export.
However, the world is changing. The commodity game is fleeting, and we find ourselves out of step in our ability to compete with low-cost producers from further and further afield.
Concurrently, our system of stewardship on our publicly held lands has produced some of the highest quality wood fibre in the world. New opportunities for forest products and services abound.
Now is the time to revisit our forest strategy. When are we going to create and market products that match the quality of our wood fibre?
When are we going to capitalize on the growing markets for high-end appearance wood products, such as doors and windows, mouldings and millwork, cabinetry, furniture, flooring and prefabricated housing?
When will we finally get traction on the term “value-added” by enabling the creation of a viable and economically significant industry?
The reasons for being unable to foster a value-added sector that goes beyond merely fledgling are numerous and nuanced, but most are underpinned by the fact the forest sector is an entrenched industry operating within the confines of outmoded policies.
Unlike the commodity wood products sector, B.C.’s value-added industry is incredibly well poised to sustainably compete in global markets. We have highly sought after wood species and a comparatively strong environmental track record of responsible forest stewardship.
We have numerous competitive advantages in the form of geographic proximity to robust markets, strong supply chain infrastructures, ample business support services, thoughtful market intelligence, state-of-art technologies, a strong design tradition, a skilled workforce, and most importantly, a yearning on the part of forest-dependent communities to remain vital.
In other words, we have the business savvy to make this work. But do we have the political will?
After decades of politicians talking about “value-added” wood products as a panacea to the decline of forest-dependent communities, it is too easy to dismiss this strategy as rhetoric. There is a pressing need right now for all of us in B.C. to have an open and frank dialogue on how to move the value-added agenda forward in a meaningful way.
Can we create forest policy that assures the small and medium enterprises have access to the high quality wood fibre they desperately need? Can we catalyze business development by creating a healthy investment climate and an enabling environment for small and medium enterprises to flourish?
Can we begin to capitalize on our business strengths and create a culture of innovation and design, as opposed to replication and commodification?
To say no to these questions is defeatist; an admission we do not have the wherewithal to be world leaders in the business of forestry and acceptance that B.C. is destined to win the race to the bottom.
Robert Kozak is the professor and head of the department of wood science at the University of British Columbia faculty of forestry.