October 17, 2013

The Portuguese pulp and paper industry: myths and reality.

The Portuguese paper industry holds some myths, frequently advertised by some opinion makers. Are such myths real?

1.     The weight of the paper industry in the national economy and, in particular, in the exports, has been the most common belief lately.

If, on one hand, it highlights the contribution of the paper industry in the economy, on the other there is a sharp decrease in the weight of all the forest-based industries in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - which was already in decline over the last decade. The weight of the forest-based industries in GDP was 2.2% in 2000 and in 2010 it was only 1.3%. The advertised weight of 3.0% of GDP in the forest sector (forest + forest-based industries) for 2000 is reduced in 2010 for only 1.8%.

The importance of the forest-based industry in the exports gross value corresponds to the increased weight of imports of wood. Part of those Imports comes from countries with dubious management rules on their natural resources.

The increase of business profitability on the forest-based industry has been joined by a sharp decline in the forestry business; with the business risk transfer to hundreds of thousands of private forest owners engaged in the roundwood production (families and rural communities hold 92% of the forest areas in Portugal, 60% of farms have less than 5 hectares). At the end of the chain, the risk is supported by the Society. The lack of business expectations in the forests leads to the absence of forest management. The absence of forest management has serious consequences on forest fires, with devastating effects on the statistics of burned forest areas. The Society annually supports high economic costs and huge environmental and social impacts caused by forest fires in Portugal.

Currently, the domestic pulp and paper industry has a very poor auto supplying capacity; rounding 20% (around 16% is Group Portucel Soporcel).

The presence of the pulp and paper industry in the forest (the area of ​​greatest business risk) is continuously decreasing. Only in the last decade eucalyptus areas held by the pulp and paper industry decreased more than 34 000 hectares. There seems to be a progressive disinvestment in the forest and, consequently, a business risk transfer to the hundreds of thousands of families that contribute to supply this industry.

2.     The excellence management awards are another myth.

For this “excellence” in management evaluation, the unilateral imposition of the roundwood prices to the forest owners has been contributed greatly. Such imposition by the pulp and paper industry is protected by the State, in complete contradiction to the principles of equity and healthy functioning of the markets. The luxury of cogeneration profits, guaranteed by the State, has constituted a favorable factor to a good performance management result.

It’s also important to notice that, in 2010 and 2011, Portucel achieved extraordinary overall revenues of about 50 million Euros, generated by tax benefits granted by the State.

3.     The performance in innovation.

The area of eucalyptus in Portugal has increased ten times in the last 50 years (currently the fifth largest in the world), but the national average productivity is the same today as it was previously registered in 1928. The pulp and paper industry had invested in R&D in the past, but currently it has almost abandoned this area, focusing on the quantity instead of quality. However, the risks of quantity production have been assumed by the Society.

After all, everything suggests that the myths associated to the pulp and paper industry in Portugal are nothing but myths. In fact, successive governments have protected the economic interests of shareholders, and its headquarters fiscally addressed in the Netherlands. This state protection is performed on the detriment of families, forests and Territory.

Surely, this is not the type of investment and unsustainable extraction Acréscimo advocates for forest areas and the forest-based industry in Portugal.

Acréscimo is a non-governmental organization that promotes sustainable and socially responsible forest investment. The association is seriously concerned about the high risk of forest fires related to this investment as well as the responsibilities of forest-based industry in promoting this risk (with the complicity of the state) besides a healthy and competitive functioning of markets.

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