EU tropical sawnwood imports drop up by 11%

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EU imports of tropical sawnwood have continued to recover slowly in 2016 from the depths of recession in early 2013. There was a particularly significant surge in trade in the second quarter of this year, notably from Cameroon.

EU imports of tropical sawnwood in the first five months of 2016 were 460,000 cu.m, 11% more than the same period in 2015. There were significant gains in imports from a wide range of countries including Cameroon (+31% to 166,400 cu.m), Gabon (+20% to 50,200 cu.m), Congo (+21 to 24,300 cu.m), DRC (+28% to 13,200 cu.m), Indonesia (+40% to 11,800 cu.m), Ghana (+15% to 10,900 cu.m) and Suriname (+56% to 10,000 cu.m).

These gains offset a decline in imports from Malaysia (- 8% to 59,900 cu.m) and Brazil (-16% to 53,600 cu.m). 

The rise in EU imports of tropical sawnwood in the first five months of 2016 was concentrated in Belgium (+22% to 147,000 cu.m), Italy (+27% to 61,800 cu.m) and Spain (+24% to 31,000 cu.m). Imports into other leading destinations, including Netherlands, France, UK, Germany and Portugal, were very similar to the level in 2015. 

The increasing concentration of EU imports of tropical sawnwood into Belgium, which accounted for 32% of the total in the first five months of 2016 – compared to only 26% for the year in 2014 – is striking.

Companies in Belgium seem to be playing an ever larger role in distributing tropical sawnwood into other parts of the EU – a trend that may be partly driven by EUTR as it discourages smaller EU operators to buy direct and to rely on larger companies with greater resources available to implement bureaucratic due diligence procedures.

A rising share of the tropical timber imported into Italy also seems now to be sold into other parts of the EU as the country’s domestic market remains very weak. Some larger Italian importers are known to be distributing tropical hardwoods into northern parts of the EU.

While EU imports of tropical sawnwood have been rising this year, trade in temperate sawn hardwood has risen more rapidly so that the share of tropical wood has continued to slide.

In the first 5 months of 2016, EU imports of sawn hardwood increased sharply from Ukraine (+25% to 170,100 cu.m), the USA (+10% to 146,300 cu.m) and Russia (+16% to 56,552 cu.m). This is a reflection of the strong and increasing dependence on oak in the European hardwood sector and is also due to policy and exchange rate effects.

In the last two years, the euro has strengthened by 50% against the Ukrainian hryvnia and by 40% against the Russian rouble. The Ukraine also banned log exports from November 2015, encouraging a switch to trade in sawnwood.

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