Thailand’s timber industry: Unlocking possibilities for a responsible future

Jirawat Tangkijngamwong wears many hats; he is the Deputy Managing Director of Deesawat Industries and the Chairman of Deesawat Design. He is also the Chairman of the Thai Timber Assocation. As he talks about future plans for his family-run business, he also shares his passion for sustainable development and a vision for a fairer, more competitive timber industry in Thailand.

Industry insiders will well be aware of Jirawat and Deesawat, names synonymous with quality and environmentally friendly furniture designs. Although he fronts the family business as Chairman of Deesawat Design, the design wing of the company, it is his brother who is in charge of research and development and design. Jirawat on the other hand, drives the business’ overall marketing and branding strategy. The company also owns a sawmill on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Almost 70% of Deesawat’s products are made from teak. In the recent years, the company has diversified into the use of American hardwoods such as oak and ash. This material is easy to market to clients, most of whom demand evidence of responsibly sourced timber before purchase. Thailand is now the second largest importer of American hardwoods in Southeast Asia after Vietnam.

“We are a niche market player for American hardwoods in outdoor furniture. As a responsibly sourced raw material, American hardwoods fit well into the company’s philosophy of using sustainable wood,” says Jirawat, or Jiro as he is more affectionately known.

He believes that businesses that are committed to the environment find themselves in a win-win situation because customers are more attracted to buying wood-based products that have been harvested responsibly. The company was recently FSC-certified for its furniture and certified green for its manufacturing process.

He may have ambitious plans for the future of Deesawat, but bigger still, are his dreams for the Thai timber industry—a holistic, industry-wide reform that will benefit stakeholders across the supply value chain. 

Furniture from Deesawat Industries. Photo Credit: Deesawat

Now into his 9th year as the Chairman of the Thai Timber Association, Jirawat believes that industry deregulation and fair competition will be beneficial for all in the long run. This means eliminating the overprotection of small-time farmers and allowing market forces to drive demand.

The Thai Timber Association engages key players in the private sector, civil society and government. It also brings academia, farmers, and legal practitioners together to discuss policies for a better future for the Thai timber industry. Externally, the Association also connects with the non-profit sector; in fact, their involvement is necessary for the development of the country’s forest resources.

“These NGOs will realise that TTA shares their vision as well. The process of getting there might be different, but the goals are the same. We both want to protect our natural heritage in a time of change.

“The idea of sustainability just looks at protecting trees. Responsible cultivation on the other hand means taking care of individual farmers and small industries who depend on the forests for a livelihood.”

Thailand is strategically positioned to be a logistics hub. It connects to Nanning and Yunnan in China, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. This access to markets favours it as a destination for investment and entertainment. It is also an ideal location for a manufacturing base because land is cheap.

But in order to get there, the government needs to revamp its policies. On this, Jirawat is also working hard to implement a legal assurance policy for the local timber sector. Having legal standards will give the industry a foundation upon which all players must trade legal timber.

Legality assurance improves tracking and transparency, since these papers prove that a lumberjack is permitted to harvest trees in a particular lot. It will also see factories cleaning up their act, literally, in terms of promoting energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.

As a whole, it will elevate Thailand’s position as a key timber exporter, particularly to Europe. With the EU Timber Regulation in effect, this legality assurance will serve as a due diligence system that will enable first time exporters to enter the European market, bringing in substantial income for the country as a whole.

To achieve this, Jirawat needs to involve these ministries to discuss—Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Trade & Commerce, Ministry of Industry and Ministry of Interior. Yet, years of political instability in the country have stalled efforts to resume negotiations.

“It is a long fight, but there has been some progress. At least the government is willing to talk. But how to implement this will be tricky.”

 

This article was first published in Panels & Furniture Asia (Nov/Dec 2014) and has been edited to reflect current events. 

Mr Jirawat Tangkijngamwong will be speaking at the Sylva Wood 2016 seminar on June 27 in Shanghai.