Monday, April 22, 2024

Wool plan delays frustrate sector

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Frustration has set in as wool industry stakeholders await the release of a Government report they fear has lost momentum to pull the industry out of its doldrums.
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In July 2018 the Wool Working Group (WWG) was tasked by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor with creating a sustainable and profitable wool industry action plan to revitalise the languishing sector.

Now wool industry stakeholders claim the work, due to be completed last September, is not happening fast enough.

There is also concern the WWG has not listened to all industry players.

Godfrey Hirst, Feltex and Canterbury Spinners Group have invested more than $200 million in New Zealand, primarily to make woollen yarns and carpets, group chief executive Tania Pauling said. 

“We are very keen to promote our NZ wool carpets both within NZ and to export markets.  

“I understand we are the largest local user of NZ coarse wool. Given this, we have been disappointed to be largely ignored by both Minister O’Connor and the WWG despite expressing a willingness to engage over the past 20 months.

“We feel we have been specifically excluded and if other key players have likewise been excluded from the conversation we are concerned that any report emanating from this group will be largely irrelevant.”

The carpet and yarn maker is spending a large part of its local marketing budget on promoting wool, both to end consumers and to its retail network with several key marketing campaigns under way and more in the pipeline. 

“We are actively promoting our wool products in NZ, Australia, which is a strong, existing market, and the United States, an emerging market for NZ wool carpets and yarn. 

“We are also looking to leverage the distribution that our parent company (Mohawk) has in the US to export more wool carpet and yarn.

“The fact that we can access the know-how and experience of Mohawk gives Godfrey Hirst an unprecedented opportunity to succeed where others have failed in the past.  

“We would have an even greater chance of success if we could partner with others in the wool industry and the Government to help achieve this,” Pauling said. 

NZ Woolscouring chief executive Nigel Hales said while he had initial input with the stakeholder group he has not been included in conversation with the WWG since October last year.

While acknowledging there is no easy silver bullet for the WWG Hales expressed some lack of confidence in it.

“There’s two I would fully trust the decisions of but I can’t speak for the others.”

NZ Woolscouring is the biggest handler of wool in NZ and globally.

“We are so thankful we are a sole provider. We would be swallowed up by highly subsidised competitors offshore otherwise.”

Hales said governments all around the world are protecting their textile industries, citing China in particular.

“It would be a simple change for (NZ) Government tenders to change to wool-rich for flooring, interior textiles and insulation.

“This would kick start the NZ economy in terms of wool and it’s not hard to do, just the stroke of a pen could flick that switch very quickly.

“It’s a very tough gig to come up with something and I believe it’s going to need Government funding to bring further processing capability such as felt and cloth making back to NZ to use the lower grades of wool in the future,” Hales said.

National Council of NZ Wool Interests chairman Craig Smith said he was asked by O’Connor to pull the wool industry together under one umbrella.

“I have done that and since November 2019 we have all been sitting under the umbrella waiting in anticipation for the release of the report.”

As a trustee of Campaign for Wool Smith expressed disappointment approaches have been made to the WWG to attend meetings to get informed.

“We invited the WWG chairman and members and all turned us down.

“Putting that aside, united wool industry stakeholders are sitting on their hands waiting to support the minister and his report.

“It’s extremely frustrating but we need to know what direction the minister is going to take the report so we can move,” Smith said.

WWG chairman John Rodwell said he is keen to get the report out.

“But it’s up to the minister. It’s his report and it’s his call. All I can say is it is imminent.     

O’Connor confirmed he has received the final WWG report and plans to release it in coming weeks. 

He cited covid-19 as the reason for the delay.

O’Connor said the WWG, comprised of members with a range of experience across the wool industry, has consulted widely with the industry in preparing the report.

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