With 100 AHEC members, their local staff and 800 delegates from local wood industries, the 22nd AHEC Convention was considered “as one of the best ever”.
The formal event was opened with remarks by William Verzani, deputy director of U.S. Agricultural Trade Office in Guangzhou, AHEC Chairman Dave Bramlage and AHEC Regional Director John Chan. They all emphasised the vital importance of China to the American hardwood industry, followed by Vietnam.
Mr Verzani stated that U.S. wood exports account for 13 per cent of all the U.S. agricultural product exports which total $25 billion.
In 2016 exports of U.S. hardwood graded lumber to China exceeded exports to all other world markets combined. While 55 per cent is still sold domestically in the USA, 23 per cent of production is shipped to China and 22 per cent to all other markets. China is, and will continue to be the number one export market for American hardwoods for the foreseeable future.
AHEC Executive Director Michael Snow also shared the environmental performance and growth of U.S. hardwoods, and introduced the newly launched interactive maps which provides growth to harvest and mortality data for any species, nationally and state by state, even at the county level. He then turned to the interior and new exterior applications in hardwood Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Thermally Modified Timber (TMT). Both are opening new markets through improved durability and strength.
For the first time, NHLA Executive Director Lorna Christie addressed Asian media at the press conference. While implementation of the grading rules governs the industry, she saw the role of NHLA as business advisers, educators and ambassadors as well as providing ongoing guidance and connections.
From left: William Verzani, Deputy Director of Agricultural Trade Office in Guangzhou; AHEC Regional Director John Chan; AHEC Executive Director Michael Snow
“Chinese demand for imported wood will continue to grow”
At the Asian Market Panel Discussion, delegates heard from Linda Tu Qi, China National Furniture Association. She gave data on the growth of Chinese demand citing USA, Japan and UK as the top markets for Chinese furniture and proposed more cooperation with AHEC.
Richard Lee from the Malaysia Furniture Council discussed various Malaysian hardwood species and the growth of furniture sales to USA; by inference suggesting the need for greater use of American species. On behalf of the Singapore Furniture Industries Council, Ernie Koh discussed the growth of retail in China but highlighted the 600 million population of ASEAN countries as markets for timber and finished products.
Jirawat Tangkijngamwong from the Thai Timber Association emphasised the importance of tourism to Thailand and the demand for hospitality projects. He confirmed USA, Japan and China as the main target markets for Thai exports; but also the importance of ASEAN. Finally Nguyen Quoc Khanh from the Handicraft & Wood Association of Ho Chi Minh City described the Vietnamese furniture industry as selling mainly to USA, China and Japan, for which USA supplies 12 per cent of the wood material.
The panel suggested that Chinese demand for imported wood will continue to grow at least for five to 10 years; as will Vietnam, especially with government support; Malaysia needs to embrace imported species. But to the question of “where next?” as Chinese production costs rise, there was little agreement other than the suggestion of further inland.
Asian markets panelists
“Strong demand trend for solid wood furniture among China’s wealthier consumers”
Mr Sun Jie, Chairman of the Shandong Furniture Association and President of Yantai Jisi Group, provided an overview of the local furniture industry. Of the 4,500 furniture enterprises, 553 are ‘substantial’, he said. He showed data demonstrating the growth of the industry and particularly impressive were some of its contemporary furniture models that have drawn inspiration from traditional Chinese furniture relevant in today’s vast domestic market. It was clear that there is a strong demand trend for solid wood furniture among China’s wealthier consumers. Thus American lumber had taken on additional importance since 2010 when log export restrictions were enforced in Russia.
In conclusion Mr Jie predicted further growth, especially for solid wood, increased policy on environmental issues and finally suggested that branding focus and design innovation would be needed.
Silas Chiow, director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill China, presented some conceptual details for four major projects in which wood was included in the final fit-out to bring tall steel and concrete buildings “to a human level”. But it was left to Aaron Leri, Sales & Marketing director of AA Corporation in Vietnam, to expound the benefits of American hardwoods in the tough world of the hospitality fit-out contracting business.
Presentations concluded with Dana Spessert, Chief Inspector of NHLA, providing an introduction to the NHLA Lumber Grading Rules for U.S. hardwoods.
After the event, delegates had a chance to interact with AHEC member companies, 40 of which had corporate display tables at the “mini trade show”.
Summing up the event later, Mr Snow said that it was the enthusiasm of all delegates that marked this year’s convention as being particularly memorable and fruitful.
The 2018 convention is tentatively planned to be held in Xi’an.