The share of tropical countries in EU plywood imports fell to an all time low of less than 8% in 2015. While EU imports of plywood from tropical countries were rising slowly last year, imports from other countries increased more sharply, particularly of mixed hardwood plywood from China and birch plywood from Russia.
Latest EU import data (to end August) shows that the share of tropical plywood in total EU plywood imports has stabilised at the lower level during 2016. However there has been some shift in the share of other plywood suppliers into the EU.
This year Chinese mixed hardwood plywood has lost share in the EU market to Russian birch plywood and various suppliers of softwood plywood, including Brazil, Chile and Russia (Charts 1 and 2).
After falling back 7% to 276000 cubic metres in 2015, EU imports of hardwood-faced plywood from tropical countries rebounded 7% to 202000 cubic metres in the first eight months of this year.
EU imports of tropical hardwood-faced plywood from China, which increased 5% to 95000 cubic metres in 2015, have continued to rise rapidly this year, up 30% to more than 82000 cubic metres by the end of August.
However, EU imports of other hardwood-faced plywood from China (including birch plywood, mixed light hardwood, and various other forms of combi plywood) have slowed this year, falling 6% to 709000 cubic metres in the first eight months.
The changing composition of EU plywood imports from China may be partly related to strong competition from Russian birch plywood, of which EU imports increased by 26% to 741000 cubic metres in the first 8 months of 2016.
Enforcement of EUTR and CE marking requirements may also be encouraging a shift from Chinese mixed light hardwood products to plywood containing more clearly identified species of known origin and technical performance.
This same factor is also likely to explain the increase in EU imports of Chinese plywood faced with hardwood species identified as of tropical in origin.
Tropical countries have been supplying more hardwood plywood into the EU this year. In the first eight months of 2016, EU imports increased 11% to 76000 cubic metres from Malaysia, 7% to 73000 cubic metres from Indonesia, and 12% to 30000 cubic metres from Gabon.
However, the shifting composition of plywood supplied into Europe from China has meant that country has now emerged as the EU’s largest single supplier of tropical hardwood plywood. This raises questions about the relative competitiveness of plywood manufacturers operating in tropical countries (Chart 3).