EU sawn tropical hardwood imports still low

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The recent 5% increase in European sawn tropical hardwood imports to 985,000 m3 was insufficient to offset the 8% drop in deliveries experienced in 2013. A closer look at the most important supplier countries reveals that Malaysia (+13%), Brazil (+19%) and Ivory Coast (+15%) boosted their deliveries to Europe significantly last year.

This came after decline in imports from these three countries in 2013. Deliveries from the Congo Republic and Gabon also continued their positive trend last year.

EU imports from Cameroon (-4%), Ghana (-9%) and Indonesia (-8%) continued their downhill slide in 2014.

EU imports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo fell by 3% in 2014 following an increase in 2013.

Chart 4 reveals that Cameroon remains by far the most important supplier of sawn tropical hardwood to the EU, despite the steep drop in 2013 and the renewed decline in deliveries in 2014. The EU countries imported 302,000 m3 of tropical sawn timber from Cameroon in 2014, after 315,000 m3 in 2013 and 367,000 m3 in 2012.

The supply problems for sapele timber and associated long lead times, the main cause for declining deliveries in 2013, continued into 2014.

Moreover, shipments from Cameroon have been seriously affected by logistical problems in the country's main port of export in Douala. A strike at the port at the end of 2013, as well as problems related to the depth of the port's navigation channel, a broken loading crane and general logistical problems caused a backlog of goods at the port.

According to information from importers, these problems continue to persist for break bulk shipments and container shipments are also occasionally subject to delay which makes transportation times hard to calculate.

The new deep-water port in Kribi/Cameroon could help ease this situation. The port is apparently operative now.

However, a European company that operates sawmills in the region said in March 2015 that they had not yet received any offers from the major shipping lines for shipping from Kribi.

In 2014, Gabon was once again the second largest African supplier of tropical sawn wood into Europe. European demand for timber from Gabon had started to grow as early as the end of last year. And throughout 2014 the country's okoume exports remained rather competitively priced compared to tulipwood from the USA, for example.

European imports from Ivory Coast also increased in 2014. This was due to strengthening demand for framire in the UK combined with importers' increasing confidence in legality assurance documentation.

In Malaysia, the second most important tropical sawn wood supplier overall, prices for meranti lumber have been comparatively low and stable throughout last year, which may have fuelled demand.

Moreover, both the UK and the Netherlands, two of Malaysia's largest European sales markets stepped up their tropical timber imports last year (Chart 5). It total, the EU countries imported 194,000 m3 of sawn timber from Malaysia last year, 13% more than in 2013.

The anticipated drop in deliveries due to the change in Malaysia's GSP status as of 1 January 2014 and related rise in import duties from 3.5% to 7% has therefore not materialised. Recognition of the Malaysian Timber Certification System (MTCS) in the Dutch government procurement policy in 2013 may have boosted sales in the Netherlands during 2014.

The 19% increase in EU tropical sawn wood imports from Brazil in 2014 has to be seen against the background of a 21% fall the previous year. At 118,000m3, last year's tropical timber deliveries from Brazil still fell well short of the 125,000m3 delivered back in 2012, before the EU Timber Regulation entered into force.

The May 2014 Greenpeace report about alleged illegal logging titled The Amazon's Silent Crisis has prompted some European companies to take an even closer look at their supply chains in Brazil. Nonetheless, European tropical sawn wood imports from Brazil recovered last year.

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