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Chief Minister tells plywood mills to move to a ‘higher-level’ by manufacturing furniture, flooring products to remain in business

Abang Johari rides a bicycle made from bamboo, which is a memento for him. Seen from left are Naroden, Hashim, Awang Tengah and Len Talif. — Photo by Chimon Upon

KUCHING: Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has acknowledged that local plywood mills have fallen on hard times, but urged industry players to change in order to survive.

He said that plywood industry operators who are exporting the raw material needed to shift to a ‘higher level’ rather than continue their export business.

“Yes (the local plywood industry is a sunset industry). That’s why we have to shift. Previously, we were exporting plywood. Now, you got the raw material here, you shift to (a) higher level.

“You don’t have to export plywood all the time. You export the furniture, because plywood can be a raw material (which) can produce high- or added-value products,” he said when met by journalists at the launch of Sarawak Timber and SMEs Expo 2019 and Sarawak Design Conference and Expo 2019, at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) yesterday.

Abang Johari asserted that local plywood industry players could make use of the raw material to come up with new products.

“Plywood is just raw material. What you do is…you design new products out of plywood,” he said, citing flooring products as an example.

He opined that if local plywood industry players continued to just sell plywood, they would definitely face stiffer challenges given that the market has already changed.

“You (industry) can produce hard plywood. They call it laminated plywood that can be used for flooring. This one attracts money, you know. It’s popular,” he said.

Asked if it was true that some local plywood mills are shutting down this year, he replied: “Of course, if they (continue to) play their old game.”

He also dismissed the claim by industry players that stringent state policy and higher premium are among the causes for the fall of the industry.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan, who was present with Abang Johari, pointed out that adjustments needed to be made by plywood industry players.

He said these players needed to upgrade their machinery and embrace technology in order to move the industry forward.

“They cannot forever rely on natural forests. The size of the state’s forests, which used to be large, is gradually shrinking.

“So they (plywood industry players) have to make some adjustment,” said Awang Tengah, who is also Minister of Industrial and Entrepreneur Development.

On whether the Sarawak government had any plan to help sustain the industry, Abang Johari said: “This (expo) is one of it. (Plywood industry players) have to promote and change their mindset.”

According to industry insiders, plywood mill operators in Sarawak have been affected by a steep increase in the cost of production and face difficulties sourcing for raw material locally.

Citing data from 10 major plywood manufacturers in Sarawak, one insider claimed that many mills were now operating at less than half their installed capacity, with some forced to shut down.

Unable to face stiff competition from neighbouring countries, the insider said there is fear that more mills will close this year if the Sarawak government does not take drastic action to help the industry.

Among those present during the launching were Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan, Assistant Minister of Entrepreneur and Small, Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Development Datuk Mohd Naroden Majais, Assistant Minister of Urban Planning, Land Administration and Environment Datu Len Talif Salleh and STIDC general manager Hashim Bojet.

[Source: “Go further downstream” published by BorneoPost Online]

Photo Credits: BorneoPost Online / Chimon Upon

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