Total exports of hardwood products from the US to the EUropean Union (EU25) in 2005 were US$788m, a 2.3% increase over the previous year. While exports of US hardwood logs to the EU25 dropped slightly to US$132m in 2005, US hardwood lumber shipments were up just over 4% at US$473m. At the same time, exports of American hardwood veneer to the EU were unchanged at US$168m.

Not only were the volumes significant but the statistics also show Europe as a high value market. The average unit value of US hardwood lumber shipped to the EU during 2005 was US$695/m3, compared to US$411/m3 to Canada and US$393/m3 to Greater China – the second and third most important lumber export markets. Far from losing oak sales in Europe, as some analysts predicted, American white oak lumber exports were up last year by nearly 6% in value with 48% of the overall total. Strong oak promotion, a renewed fashion and genuinely new business in the building sector has boosted consumption of all oak in Europe.

For AHEC these statistics underline both the importance of creating new market opportunities as well as protecting existing business. The US hardwood industry recognises that Europe is crucial to export success and that AHEC promotion provides a framework to market more effectively. Europe may be considered “mature” compared to the rapidly growing markets in Asia but actually that maturity has created a strong and diverse consumption for US hardwoods in Europe that is not easily eroded.

The US hardwood industry also acknowledges the leading role Europe plays in terms of product design and development, especially in the key areas of furniture, flooring and Building Design. This is why in terms of AHEC’s global resource allocation, the EU is the largest single budget with one-third of the total available promotional dollars.

US hardwood exporters have worked in close partnership with the European hardwood trade for many years and AHEC’s very successful annual European conventions have helped this process. Although there is not an AHEC convention in Europe this year, plans are already underway for a new series of European conventions starting in 2007, so, as the saying goes, “watch this space”.

With regard to other AHEC activities, the focus on Europe remains stronger than ever. The statistics continue to demonstrate that despite significant changes to Europe’s furniture sector and a shift in hardwood processing to Asia, exports of US hardwoods to Europe have stayed intact.

Why? The answer is largely due to new opportunities that have been created within the building sector. AHEC’s decision to focus its promotional efforts more towards architects and designers over 10 years ago has now paid dividends.

Our annual evaluation clearly confirms that US hardwood industry promotion, led by AHEC, is influencing more European architects to specify US hardwoods for the first time and is encouraging existing specifiers to use more.

On this front, AHEC activity grows. In 2006 and 2007 architectural seminars are planned for Italy, Spain, Belgium and Ireland and the UK. Trade shows focused on specifiers will take place in UK, Italy, Spain and Germany. More new publications for architects are planned. AHEC’s structural publication for engineers and architects is being rolled out in all main European languages following its launch at the London architectural show, 100% Detail, last year.

We continue to publicise great project stories where US hardwoods have played a central role in building design, often featuring high profile examples and some of Europe’s most famous architects. How times have changed. The architectural media, once ambivalent and almost reluctant to focus on wood, now seem to have an unquenchable thirst for the material and how it is being used. This has enabled AHEC significantly to increase the coverage for American hardwood species in architectural titles all around Europe.

AHEC also takes a lead in terms of generic hardwood promotion in Europe with strong participation in “other” wood events. In the UK, our support for the Wood Awards has helped it become one of the most effective events to promote all wood to architects anywhere in Europe.

Additional support will be given this year at 100% Detail, where AHEC will provide an eye-catching hardwood design for the Wood Awards stand. We have also been instrumental in persuading the show organisers to put on a generic display, “100% materials: wood” which will feature 150 different wood product samples and a “touch and feel” experience for visiting specifiers. In March 2006 AHEC was the main sponsor of a wood conference for architects run by Architects Journal and will once again be major supporters of the IWSc Annual Conference in Oxford on September 19.

Elsewhere in Europe, AHEC recently supported an architectural conference in the Netherlands run by Centrum Hout and attended by 250 Dutch architects and we will be supporting a special wood category in the German architectural awards Detailpreis 2007.

AHEC remains a leading supporter of the French 100% wood show Carrefour International du Bois, which this year extends its reach to specifiers as well as the wood sector. Add to this the long standing working relationships that AHEC has with timber federations in most EU markets and the picture is complete.

Versatility, creativity and a passion to develop new wood markets has always been at the heart of the AHEC programmes and these values are as important today as ever; and so is Europe.