The rise in EU tropical sawn hardwood imports was owing to recovery of demand in the three largest importing markets: Belgium (+19% to 299,100 cu.m), Netherlands (+14% to 210,700 cu.m) and France (+10% to 147,800cu.m). Together these three markets accounted for 62% of the EU’s tropical sawn hardwood imports in 2015 (see chart below), ITTO reported.
By far Belgium’s largest supplier of tropical sawn hardwood is Cameroon, from where the country imported 124,500 cu.m last year, 22% more than in 2014 and 304% more than in the crisis year of 2009.
Belgian imports from Gabon have also grown dramatically in the last six years, from just 3,800 cu.m in 2009 to 53,800 cu.m in 2015. As early as 2011, Gabon ousted Malaysia as Belgium’s second most important supplier of tropical sawn hardwood. Malaysia is the only one among the seven top suppliers to have delivered less sawn timber to Belgium in 2015 than in 2009.
Data on sawn hardwood volume imports provided by the Netherlands authorities to Eurostat is inconsistent and difficult to interpret. The data shown here has been heavily amended, based on (simplistic) assumptions that import value recorded by the Dutch authorities is accurate and unit values are likely to have remained reasonably consistent. The adjusted Netherlands data suggests a rise in tropical sawn hardwood imports in 2015, largely driven by increased trade with Malaysia.
There are reasons to believe that there might have been an increase in Netherlands imports from Malaysia in 2015. After several very depressed years, the Dutch construction sector is growing again. Meanwhile the Dutch government in 2014 finally recognised the Malaysian Timber Certification System (MTCS) as meeting their criteria for sustainable timber after many years of effort by the MTCS and Malaysian Timber Council.
This at a time when the Netherlands timber trade has made very far-reaching commitments to procurement of only certified timber products in recent years, claiming that 74% of all wood imported into the country is certified. The Dutch EUTR enforcement regime also appears to be relatively more rigorous than in some other EU countries.
In short, all these factors may have encouraged Dutch importers to buy more Malaysian timber at the expense of imports from other tropical countries less capable of delivering certified product.
It’s notable that the recent apparent rise in Dutch imports of Malaysian sawn timber has been matched by a decline in imports from Cameroon.
However these comments in relation to the Netherlands are still speculative. The Malaysian export data, which seems more consistent than the Dutch import data, recorded no increase in exports of sawn hardwood to the Netherlands in 2015.
Imports of tropical sawn hardwood into France increased 9.7% to 147,800 cu.m in 2015. As in the Netherlands, there were signs of improving economic performance in France in 2015. Important market players in the French tropical timber sector, such as the tropical sawn hardwood, logs and plywood producer Rougier, reported improving demand, although still in a very competitive environment.
Cameroon and Brazil were the primary beneficiaries of the rise in French imports of sawn tropical hardwood last year.
Imports from Cameroon jumped 48.9% to 46,100 cu.m,, cementing the country’s position as France’s leading supplier. French imports from Brazil increased 29.1% to 36,400 cu.m but are still far below the volume of 61,100 cu.m delivered by Brazil in 2009.
The Italian market for tropical sawn hardwood is still in the doldrums. Italian wood importers had started to be a little more optimistic again in 2014, but this trend did not last.
After a 2% rise in 2014, the first increase since 2010, imports fell back again last year by 1% to 129,000cu.m.
The share of tropical in Italy’s total imports of sawn hardwood fell from 21% to 18%. This was mainly due a significant rise in Italian imports from other EU countries, a development partly due to the fashion for oak in furniture production. Also, due to the weakness of the euro, beech and other pale European hardwoods are likely being used for mouldings in place of tropical wood and American tulipwood (imports of which also declined in 2015).
Italy’s imports of tropical sawn hardwood increased from both leading supply countries in 2015. Imports were up 9.5% from Cameroon to 61,200 cu.m and 6.2% from Côte d’Ivoire to 26,500 cu.m. However these gains were offset by a sharp fall in imports from Gabon, the third most important supplier, down 29% at 23,200cu.m.
After rising in 2014, UK imports of tropical sawn hardwood fell 23% to 76,500 cu.m in 2015. Total UK imports of sawn hardwood, both temperate and tropical, declined 7.6% to 428,000cu.m in 2015. The share of tropical countries in total UK sawn hardwood imports fell from 22% in 2014 to 18% in 2015. Cameroon replaced Malaysia as the UK’s largest supplier of tropical sawn hardwood in 2010 and maintained this position until 2014.
However, last year imports from Cameroon fell by 41.4% to 20,800 cu.m. In 2015, Malaysia overtook Cameroon to become the largest tropical sawn hardwood supplier to the UK despite a 17.5% decline in imports to 20,900cu.m.
The rebound in Spain’s imports of tropical sawn hardwood continued last year, with imports rising 19% to 64,400 cu.m. This follows a similar gain in imports in 2014 and suggests the recovery in Spain’s crisis-stricken market is becoming more sustainable.
Tropical wood also seems to be maintaining market share in Spain: in 2015 sawn hardwood from tropical countries accounted for 40% of total sawn hardwood imports up from 39% in 2009. Spain imports tropical timber primarily from Cameroon and Brazil, both of which showed growth last year, by 25.2% to 38,400cu.m and 26.9% to 10,700cu.m, respectively.