Concerned association to petition PM, fearing it may sound a death knell for the industry 

Timber: Natural Resources Development corporation ltd (NRDCL) opening a sawmill and outlets for timber would spell the end for the local sawmills, the Association of Wood-based Industries members said in a meeting yesterday.

Fearing the end of their businesses, the association decided to appeal to the prime minister, seeking immediate intervention.

AWBI president, Rinchen Khandu, said while the association respected many of the government’s initiatives, some are going to cost the industry dearly.

The members said their main concerns are NRDCL opening retail outlets, and Wood Craft Centre, which is transferred to Druk Holdings and Investment recently, going fully commercial.

Members said this initiative would eat away the already smaller pie that, they say, has been already shrinking in the past few years.

“Our sawmills cater to all sorts of customers, including retail, so basically we’ve more than 100 outlets, and we see no need for the government to open new ones,” Rinchen Gyeltshen said.

Sawmillers said this new move by NRDCL oversteps its mandate of making natural resources ‘affordable, accessible, and available’ to the public.

“If NRDCL can do the logging, saw the logs and sell the timber, then it becomes a total monopoly,” a sawmiller from Paro said. “What’ll be left for us?”

One of the criticisms against the industry has been the lack of technology upgradation and quality of the products.

“If we can get enough raw materials or logs continuously, then we can upgrade our machines,” another sawmiller said, adding that some have the latest technology.

Another factor that could spell the decline of the industry, members said, was the reduction in foreign skilled labour.

The association’s general secretary, Sangay Gyeltshen, said other units might be able to run with just one imported skilled labourer.

“But for sawmillers, until there is local skilled labour available, two foreign labourers are needed, or else it could compromise those units’ function,” he said.

“We understand the government’s noble intention to give work to our local people, but there aren’t any in the market who know the trade.”

Members said the Wood Craft Centre should be left as a training institute to train locals. “It could serve dual purpose; give employment and meet our requirements,” Sangay Gyeltshen said.

The members see the centre going commercial as a threat to their business, and asked the association to petition the government to look in to the welfare of the private sector.

They said most of the dzong renovation projects have their own sawmills.  Giving the work to the private units could save the project both time and money, a member said.

“We could use the unwanted leftover parts and make them into orange or apple boxes,” a sawmiller from Wangduephodrang said.

There are 336 units of wood-based industries in the country.  More than 32 members from the western districts, some as far as Bumthang and Tsirang, discussed for about six hours about 10 issues that the industry felt has adverse impact on their businesses.

The association has 120 members.  It has already sought an appointment with lyonchhoen this week.


By Tshering Palden