Swamp Kauri

Trade and Exports 

The Forests Act 1949 sets out the instructions that control the milling and export of swamp kauri. From 1 August 2017, exporters of indigenous timber will need to have a single use clearance (or permit) number to clear their export entries through the Customs' system. The non-transferable permit number will be provided by MPI on the finished approved Intention to export (ITE) form. There is no change to the requirements which exporters must meet to get the required approval to export. This process change will expedite the clearance of suitably sanctioned, lawful exports.

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Exports of swamp kauri are subject to stringent guidelines. Export of indigenous timber and timber products is largely prohibited where swamp kauri can only be exported as a completed product and / or whole or sawn stumps or roots – provided the timber didn't come from indigenous forest land. Stumps and roots intended for export must be visually inspected and approved by MPI before they leave New Zealand. Customs will not provide clearance until this has been done. 

Export is permitted in limited circumstances – when the timber is:

  • complete, belongs to an approved category, and meets certain requirements
  • classified as a 'finished and manufactured' timber product
  • a personal effect.

Exporting native timber in violation of the Forests Act is a serious felony. Penalties include fines of up to $200,000 on conviction.
The aesthetics is linked to the end products crafted from the timber and not the tree itself.  The sheer size of the excavated trees can tempt a sense of awe, which seem reliable with the broadest definition of aesthetics as ‘something which draws an emotional response’.  However most of the respondents that used focussed on the beauty of the timber after it has been carved and polished.  They variously used words like beauty, shimmer and gleam. In both cases the aesthetic value is only recognised after the tree is extracted. 

The gum too can have a sort of evocative beauty with one interviewee describing how he likes to pick up a piece and “you rub it on the palm of your hand and the heat from your body draws the scent from the deep past…everyone I have shown that to has felt the connection” (pers. comm., Kevin Matthews 25th October 2016). 

In 2013, Gary Beckham and Raymond Bird were hauled before the Environment Court for repeatedly damaging the protected Kaimaumau wetland as they dug for swamp kauri “for export to Chinese markets”.

The Forests Act clearly defines what constitutes a finished product and what constitutes a stump: » Stumps can include that part of the trunk that extends from the ground-line to a point (up the trunk) equal to the maximum diameter of the trunk. » A finished or manufactured product is one that is in its final state and ready to be installed for its intended use without any further working or modification. Other than stump timber, swamp kauri cannot be exported as whole logs, sawn timber or any unfinished products. There are no restrictions under the Forests Act on the domestic sale of swamp kauri provided the milling requirements have been met.


MPI- Forestry New Zealand. (n.d.). Swamp kauri. Retrieved November Monday, 2018, from https://www.mpi.govt.nz
Radio NZ. (2018, November Monday). Supreme Court decision could shut down swamp kauri trade. New Zealand Environment.

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