EU imports of tropical sawnwood increased 5% to 753,000 tonnes in 2019 while import value declined slightly, by 0.1% to €728.1 million. EU traders reported generally steady, in some cases strong, trading conditions for tropical timber in the first half of 2019 followed by a distinct slowdown in the second half as uncertainty mounted over the wider economic picture.
Imports from Cameroon, particularly slow in 2018, increased 10% to 277,600 tonnes during 2019. Imports also increased from several other countries including Brazil (up 23% to 129,100 tonnes), Gabon (up 5% to 96,300 tonnes), Congo (up 28% to 60,900 tonnes), and Ghana (up 12% to 17,000 tonnes). After a strong start to 2019, imports from DRC were 13,100 tonnes over the entire year, down 5% on 2018. These gains offset a 25% decline in imports from Malaysia, to 74,500 tonnes, an 8% decline from Côte d'Ivoire to 27,200 tonnes, and a 24% decline in imports from Myanmar, to 6,800 tonnes.
The decline in EU imports from Malaysia in 2019 was attributed by some importers to a decline in the availability of PEFC certified product following the suspension of MTCS certification in Johor and Kedar states in May 2019 which led to the total certified area in Malaysia to fall by around 25%.
This may have been a factor in the Netherlands and UK where there is a stronger preference for certified wood. However, rising EU imports from other tropical countries with even less access to certified wood, such as Cameroon and Brazil, implies that other factors were also important for the decline in imports from Malaysia.
For example, Malaysian mills have been held back by raw material shortages and Malaysian products have come under growing competitive price pressure from Brazilian products. This is partly due to exchange rate movements.
The value of the Brazilian real is currently at historically very low levels on international currency exchange markets and has lost nearly 50% against the euro in the last decade which has meant that Brazilian producers are more inclined to export. In contrast the Malaysian currency has lost less than 10% against the euro over the same period.
The trend towards increased concentration of tropical sawnwood imports into the EU by way of Belgium continued in 2019 (Chart 3). Belgian imports increased 10% to 269,100 tonnes last year, with the country accounting for much of the gain in EU imports from Brazil, Gabon and the Congo Republic. In contrast Belgian imports of sawnwood from Malaysia and DRC declined last year. Belgian imports from Cameroon, by far the largest supplier of tropical sawnwood, to Belgium accounting for around 45% of the total, remained stable at 120,000 tonnes last year.
Imports of tropical sawnwood into the Netherlands declined by 11% to 120,600 tonnes in 2019. There was a significant increase in Dutch imports from Brazil and Cameroon offset by a large decline in imports from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Imports of tropical sawnwood into France increased 7% last year, to 85,800 tonnes, the second consecutive year of gains after a 25% downturn in 2017. Imports increased from all four of the leading supply countries to France - Cameroon, Brazil, the Republic of Congo, and Gabon – but declined from Malaysia.
There was also a slight increase in French imports from Madagascar last year – France being the only EU country importing anything other than negligible volumes (4450 tonnes in 2019) from the country.
Italy’s imports of tropical sawnwood fell 4% to 69,100 tonnes in 2019, with imports down from both Cameroon and Gabon, the two leading suppliers. Italian sawnwood imports from Côte d'Ivoire recovered a little ground in 2019 after several years of continual decline but, at less than 7,000 tonnes, were still only around half the level of three years before. Italian imports from Myanmar last year were 4,400 tonnes, a slight gain on 4,300 tonnes in 2018 and double the volume of 2017.
The UK imported 57,900 tonnes of tropical sawnwood in 2019, 12% more than the previous year with significant gains in imports from Cameroon, Republic of Congo, DRC and Brazil offsetting a decline in imports from Malaysian and Côte d'Ivoire. Imports of tropical sawnwood into Ireland made even larger gains, but from a smaller base, rising 64% to 14,500 tonnes, sourced almost exclusively from Cameroon.
Tropical sawnwood imports into Spain and Portugal also made significant gains last year, respectively rising 26% to 46,600 tonnes and 25% to 28,500 tonnes. Imports into Spain and Portugal derive mainly from Cameroon and Brazil, and imports from both countries increased in both Spain and Portugal last year. Spain also recorded gains in imports from the Republic of Congo and Gabon. However, Portugal’s imports from these two latter countries declined, losses only offset by a recovery in Portugal’s imports from Angola.
Germany’s direct imports of tropical sawnwood suffered another downturn last year, falling 18% to only 24,300 tonnes. Imports fell from both Cameroon and Brazil, partly offset by a rise in imports from Ghana. Germany is now by far the largest direct EU importer of Ghanaian sawn timber, taking 6,300 tonnes last year, nearly twice the volume of Belgium, the next largest importer. However, for imports from other tropical countries, Germany is increasingly dependent on indirect trade via Belgium and the Netherlands.
After a continuous rise between 2014 and 2018, Denmark’s imports of tropical sawnwood fell 2% to 13,600 tonnes in 2019. Nearly all the gains in recent year have been from Brazil and, to a lesser extent Peru, and Danish imports from the two South American countries continued to rise in 2019.
Imports from Ecuador (likely of balsa wood, possibly to supply the wind turbine industry) also increased sharply from only 336 tonnes to 1100 tonnes last year. However, these gains were offset by a fall in Danish imports from Republic of Congo and Cameroon.