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Ed Sheeran

Lifeline sought for Whakatane Mill

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The Eastern Bay of Plenty's economic development agency wants to work with iwi, government and other stakeholders to find a way to save the Whakatāne Mill.

Swiss owner SIG says it has lost its biggest customer for laminated paper packaging, so the plant is set to close after more than 80 years.

Toi EDA strategy manager Karl Gradon says it will mean the loss of 200 direct jobs, including 74 who self identify as Māori, 100 contractors and many in supporting industries.

He says it’s hard for companies to compete in a distorted market where the bulk of New Zealand logs are exported to subsided processors in places like China.

"So it's not just a problem about this mill. This is a symptom of what's happening in the broader sector and we need to find a way to crack that chestnut. It's not just central government, it's industry, it's local government, and hopefully with significant iwi involvement given the fact the majority of our forests are on Māori land," Mr Gradon says.

He says the Māori community in the region has already suffered with the loss of the Whakaari White Island tourism business and the impact of Covid, so the agency is working with iwi to identify ways the mill could be repurposed to add value to the region and solve some of its social and environmental problems.

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