Staying engaged with EU opportunity17 December 2018
Regardless of Brexit, the UK timber sector must cultivate, maintain and improve relationships with colleagues across the rest of Europe, writes Keith Fryer Buildbase forest products development manager
While we don’t necessarily know how Brexit will pan out, we can probably work on the basis that the sun will still come up and we will still need timber products, so it’s our job to try and make sure that we continue to have those products in stock and ready for delivery.
Our relationship with the rest of the European Union is going to change, but before we become too gloomy about this we probably need to remember where we’re coming from.
Having survived the cataclysmic declines in demand for timber back in 2008-2010, we’re unlikely to see anything similar in 2019. It’s also a fact that back in the 1970s we were happily trading (possibly with exactly the same companies in some instances) with the rest of Europe, as one of their largest customers.
We need good suppliers and they need good customers. That is not going to change. The basics of timber procurement and supply chain management are not going to be any different. Yes, who knows, perhaps there’ll be different border procedures, but ultimately we’re all still going to be buying and selling timber in April 2019.
What I have felt for some time, through my work within the TTF and CEI Bois (the EU forum for the promotion of timber), where I chair the Trade Working Group, is that we need to work harder than ever to cultivate, maintain and improve relationships within mainland Europe. We have much to gain through interaction with the vast range of timber businesses and trade associations across all EU countries and we must maintain engagement.
I was fortunate to be the moderator for the International Softwood Conference (ISC) in Riga this year, where over 200 delegates from across the world came together to study the softwood market, examine trends and forecasts, while identifying new opportunities, innovative practices and products (see pp22-23). The Latvian Timber Federation did an incredible job, facilitating a wonderful event.
One of the many things we spent time on was chain of custody. With representatives from FSC and PEFC, we had a lively debate about the best route for a more effective and efficient system. Whatever comes from this will impact on the entire UK timber trade.
There was UK representation at the event, but, when you consider the importance of Europe to the country in terms of softwood products, our presence was small. I feel that this was our loss. Unless we are in the room, we cannot influence or understand the direction of travel for products that are crucial to our business sector.
So, as we head towards March 2019, let’s do so in a responsible and mature way, using this moment of significant change to our best possible advantage and change the way that we interact in Europe. Let’s explore more than we’ve ever done before. Let’s capitalise on the incredible opportunities that exist within the EU and use them for our benefit.
We can’t do that by watching from afar. We must engage. If we do, we have more to gain and we’ll be better off, more effective and more profitable.