A new challenge

27 March 2020

Just when we thought we had seen off the continuing uncertainty over Brexit and potential stalemate in UK politics, an unexpected challenge has raised its head. The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) is starting to have an impact on the international trade of wood products.

In our world news section (see page 10) we report that organisers of some international trade fairs have postponed or cancelled exhibitions. The China International Furniture Fair (CIFF) and China International Furniture Machinery & Furniture Raw Materials Fair 2020 (CIFM Interzum) due to take place in March were postponed indefinitely.

Salone del Mobile, the Milan-based international furniture and design show, has been postponed until June and the German woodworking technology exhibition Holz-Handwerk and Fensterbau Frontale at Nürnberg Messe from March 18-21 have also been postponed. The shutdown implemented in China to try to prevent the infection spread has impacted production of wood products in China, most notably plywood.

Mill production may be returning to normal now, but a gap in export volumes has been created. Shortages and price rises are being talked about and as one panels trader told me last week, it is a “tricky” situation. The knock-on effects of the shutdown across multiple industries has included shipping, with lines having blank sailings. Estimates at the number of blank sailings announced by container carriers equate to a staggering total demand shortfall of 1.7 million TEU.

In Europe, things have moved very quickly in the past two weeks since I was in Milan for the Xylexpo show international press conference. Normal crowds of people were still evident then with the odd face mask to be seen but today it is a different story as holidays and business trips are cancelled.

UK timber traders have been drawing up contingency plans and non-essential international business travel cancelled by many firms.

Elsewhere, in this issue we feature our annual focus on garden products and decking (see page 26). Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge have battered the UK in recent weeks but there is definitely a silver lining for fencing manufacturers who have ramped up production to deal with extra demand.

Forest Garden is currently producing more than 50,000 fence panels a week, reporting a significant jump in sales since the end of January. Sales of log cabins and summerhouses are also reportedly strong.

We also include our third sector focus on wood-plastic composites (WPC), which continue to take market share in the decking market. Estimates put WPC as now having a 15% share of the new decking market, with merchants and distributors reporting strong growth in 2019.

Lastly, we’re glad announce the launch of the TTJ Awards 2020, which will be held on September 25. Entries for the judged awards will open on March 16.