The financial and economic crisis has the wood industry utterly in its grip. Regardless of where you look in Europe, the decline in lumber being processed in sawmills is huge. The drop in construction is substantial. And since most wood products end up in the building industry in one form or another, everyone is hurting, in timber, lumber and woodworking industries.

Austria’s strong, export-oriented wood industry is not immune. Sawmills are trying to re-establish a balance in the market by reducing shifts and temporarily halting operations. A cut in output is considered the only effective measure for dealing with difficult economic circumstances.

Our woodworking sector, by contrast, is feeling the pinch only in minor ways. Carpenters’ and joiners’ order books are relatively full, bolstered by a backlog of orders from last year. In the private sector in particular, demand is relatively high, and political backing for the renovation market has boosted consumer activity. The industry’s small business structures and their flexibility in adapting to new economic conditions are also proving a great help.

When, and to what extent, market conditions will improve is unclear at present. Forecasts vary too widely. But even amidst current difficulties, the positive long-term prospects for the wood industry should not be lost from view. It has a good product with a good future and still untapped innovative potential.

But this potential has to be fulfilled via a common effort. Co-operation mustn’t be a buzzword, it must be reinforced and lived across national borders. This applies, for example, to collaboration between Austria and the UK. In March, more than 20 Austrian companies exhibited at Ecobuild in London. The huge success of the show demonstrates the importance of the theme of ecological building in the UK, and underscored the importance of wood as a raw material in construction and interiors.

It also showed that the strengths of Austrian companies in terms of expertise and quality, for instance in energy-efficient building, are very attractive to UK planners and builders. And these strengths can be exploited in common UK-Austrian projects, with the aim of paving the way towards an ecological, sustainable and economically viable future.