EU hardwood imports continue to slide despite economic recovery

European imports of hardwoods have continued to slide this year, despite on-going economic recovery in the region. Sawn temperate hardwood sales have declined, albeit at a slower rate than tropical species.

For sawn tropical hardwood, the 12- month rolling total import fell from 1.15 million m3 to0.95 million m3 between June 2016 and August 2017.

After a brief surge in the second half of last year, EU imports from Cameroon, the largest EU supplier, slowed dramatically in 2017. There has also been a sharp fall in imports from Malaysia, and a slower decline from Brazil, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, DRC, and Ghana.

Most tropical sawnwood is now imported into the EU by way of large distributors in Belgium and the Netherlands.

This is due to partly to the large volume of green lumber imported from Africa which is kilned at facilities close to the ports in both countries. The EUTR has also discouraged many smaller importers from dealing direct with tropical suppliers.

The central role of re-exports from Belgium and the Netherlands makes it more difficult to determine from trade statistics exactly where this year’s slowdown in EU tropical wood consumption is concentrated. However, the decline seems to be widespread across the continent.

Imports into both transit countries, as well as into France and Italy have fallen dramatically. Buying in Germany and Spain, which are now relatively limited, have slowed also this year while imports into the UK and Portugal have been flat.

The decline in EU imports of sawn tropical hardwood is particularly disappointing at a time when the EU economy seems to be picking up. Latest figures show that the euro zone is growing at 2.3 per cent, faster than America’s 2.2 per cent.

Eurozone unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 2009, while manufacturing output in the region is up 3.2 per cent compared to the same period the year before.

To some extent weak imports into the EU during 2017 are supply-related. Exporters of sawn hardwood in all regions have benefitted this year from steady demand from China at a time when supply of favoured species is constrained.

Buyers in other Asian markets and the Middle East are also now more active. Restrictions on log exports in several countries are also boosting global demand for sawnwood.

European importers, therefore, have to secure supplies in competition with other buyers who may be willing to pay more. The demands of the EUTR, which has led EU importers to focus their buying on a much narrower range of tropical suppliers has also encouraged suppliers to focus on other markets.


Source: ITTO