“You could say we are on top of the world in sawn wood consumption,” said Märt Riistop, deputy managing director of Estonian Forest Industries Association.

And, if the figures are to be believed, he has a point. Estonia probably has the highest apparent consumption of sawnwood per capita. Since 2000, the figure has nearly trebled, reaching 1.26m3 per capita in 2006.

In last year’s Baltics supplement TTJ reported that Estonia had become a net importer of roundwood; now it looks like it will also soon be the case for sawnwood.

The UK has always been the main buyer of sawn material from Estonia but, said Mr Riistop, export volumes have been decreasing and this trend is probably continuing.

“As the volume index of the woodworking industry in Estonia in 2005 was 180.6 (2000=100), the industry needs much more raw material and consequently only 50% of the production of the sawmills in 2006 was exported,” he explained.

Domestic consumption

Also on the up is the consumption of wood in Estonia’s backyard. “Building activity is at its peak and our wood promotion campaign is making progress,” said Mr Riistop.

Again, figures bear this out. For example, the sales volume of producers of long glulam beams in Estonia increased from 1,167m3 in 2002 to 3,390m3 in 2005.

“We had to import 733,000m3 of sawn material last year, mainly from Russia,” said Mr Riistop. “Russia was also the biggest source of logs but this year the winter was mild everywhere and the logs were difficult to buy.”

Estonia, like its Baltic neighbours, is expected to pay the price in raw material supply from Russia, a result of increased export duties over the next two years. It’s a situation that concerns Mr Riistop: “Because of high export tariffs for the logs in Russia in the future, coupled with decreased felling volumes in Estonian forests, the production of sawn material in Estonia will also continue decreasing,” he said.

Private forest owners

While the volume of sustainable annual fellings in Estonia has reached 12.6 million m3, this figure is not as high as it could be. The main reason for this is insufficient activity among private forest owners. “The state only has 40% of Estonian forests by area and the bulk of protected forests are in state forests. In total, only 69.1% of Estonian forests are commercial,” said Mr Riistop. He believes the willingness of private forest owners to use their forests for wood supply is the key factor in the Estonian forest industry. “Otherwise, we will continue concentrating on further processing of sawn material, which we will buy from other countries,” he added. “In general, the capacity of Estonian sawmills corresponds with the available resource in our forests, but legislation and especially the taxation policy of private forest owners has reduced their activities in their forests to an unreasonably low level.

“Luckily our new government understands the importance of managing our own forests and possible tax reduction for private forest owners is now being actively discussed. As our national standard of PEFC certification is now internationally audited and final documentation for adapting it will soon be ready, our private forest owners will have a better chance of certifying their forests.”

Although all Estonia’s state forests are FSC certified, to date only a few private owners have certified their forests. Mr Riistop hopes the increased interest of private owners to manage their forests will also be accompanied with an increased interest in certification. And, with that, future export volumes to the UK can only increase.