Thursday, June 8

Sabah timber industry to face certification challenge

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KOTA KINABALU (Jan 8): The state’s timber industry will be facing obstacles in the future and the stakeholders as well as players will need to work together to overcome the challenges.

One of the issues is the certification requirements, said Sabah Timber Industries Association (STIA) president Tan Peng Yuan.

“It is very clear that we need to work together as a cohesive unit if we are to overcome the requirements in certification. STIA foresees the EU will be enforcing additional regulations under EUDR (European Union Deforestation Regulation) that may limit our products gaining access into multiple markets,” he said at STIA’s annual dinner here on Saturday.

Tan disclosed that on Dec 6 last year, the EU reached an agreement on a new law to prevent companies from placing commodities linked with deforestation and forest degradation onto the EU market, or exporting them from the EU. With this law, mandatory due diligence is required to ascertain source of timber.

“If we as an industry do not keep ourselves alert and take progressive action, we may suffer some permanent setbacks. If history repeats itself, it will not be long before Australia, Japan and other countries follow suit. USA is already moving in the same direction. All of these are key markets that play a pivotal role in helping Sabah reach its timber plantation targets,” said Tan.

The success of many species in the state’s plantation program depends heavily on whether industry players have access to such markets, he pointed out.

If access looks unlikely due to certification barriers, the impetus for investment in both planting and manufacturing will be lost, he lamented.

According to Tan, Sabah was well advance of many exporting countries with the state’s TLAS certification system which was developed through a well-defined Chain-of-Custody process.

“We have Sabah Forestry Department to thank for this, Without it, I believe our industry would be at least 50 per cent smaller in terms of export value and possibly one third of our STIA members would not be present today.

“That is how critical certification is to our industry. It took us almost a decade to achieve TLAS. I hope with our new and improved industry and government collaboration we can again achieve the new global standards required in certification. We do not have a decade in terms of time. Not this round,” he said.

“The show of support from our Sabah government truly warms my heart. It has been a difficult three years for everyone. We are seeing many obstacles ahead in the year of the water rabbit 2023. It is through important gatherings like the one we have tonight that our industry gains confidence in facing the many challenges ahead. Nothing is more important than the support shown by our Sabah government in the past few years,” he said.

According to him the ‘Halatuju’ set by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor especially in the plantation timber transformation program has been the key catalyst for the state’s timber industry’s plans for the future.

He also expressed gratitude to the Malaysian Timber Association (MTA) which has taken some firm steps in addressing this situation.

“We also understand that the relevant ministry has been duly alerted as a result of the position paper submitted by MTA. It is comforting to know Federal and State agencies are now collaborating on this issue,” he said.

On the issue of plantation, Tan said there is a need for Sabah to present a credible front in plantation timber ambitions.

“Let us quickly and credibly present to the world a comprehensive and workable timber plantation action plan. Let us not take flight into different tangents and self-interest and lose sight of the bigger picture.

“All parties need to work together to show the larger business community that we have a credible long-term solution for our plantation initiative,” he added.

Touching on the insurmountable challenges faced by planters and factories on availability of skilled and unskilled labour, Tan said STIA has worked tirelessly on engaging with the government to help address this issue.

“Although the solutions are not perfect but we are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. In line with this I want to take this opportunity to highlight to everyone here that Sabah produces several hundred vocational graduates every year.

“Many are willing to work on ground and learn. Just Polytechnic Sabah graduates in wood technology come to about 40-80 a year. While we do our best to secure the necessary labour force from overseas, let us not forget our ‘Anak-Anak Sabah’ who have been trained for the timber industry.

“Although the training sometimes appears to suit other places rather than specifically what Sabah needs. I urge the government and the private sector to put more effort to ensure our wood technology diploma graduates secure work in their relevant industries. Special attention also to ensure their coursework is suitable to the needs of Sabah and not only for needs of wood-working sectors in other states,” he stressed.

Tan pointed out that although Sabah is often faced with many disadvantages, there is a need to work together to ensure we do not forsake the most precious resource that we have.

“The next generation will be the ones who can help us industrialise. Industrialization 4.0 is a must for the timber. There is no second alternative. With all the incentives from MIDA, MATRADE and MTIB, we have yet to get to where we need to be. We need the next generation that is technologically savvy to guide us. We need our local boys and girls to come into the industry,” he said.

STIA, Tan added, had also collaborated with a few schools in Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and Keningau in support of “Greening Malaysia Programme” through 100 million tree planting campaign events which aim to promote public awareness and nurture the mindset of younger generations on the importance of replanting towards tackling climate change issues and maintaining the green and forest cover in the country.

Last year, STIA also conducted CSR programs with KK Hardware Machinery & Building Materials Traders Association, Che Sui Khor Moral Uplifting Society KK and Ji Her Charity & Moral Uplifting Society KK.