The European Organisation of the Sawmill Industry (EOS), which currently represents 10 national sawmill federations, is trying to encourage other European countries to sign up.

Present members are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – and EOS is hoping to encourage the UK and others to join soon.

The organisation believes in strength in numbers – and also in being near the seat of power. It recently moved its office from Bern to Brussels because, says secretary-general Filip De Jaeger, being close to the heart of EU decision-making will help EOS better achieve its main objective of dealing with all questions concerning the European timber processing industry. This includes representing and defending the common interests of its members before international bodies and, if necessary in co-operation with its members, before national bodies.

EOS also strives to provide a good and permanent relationship between the member trade organisations. It aims to develop activities in favour of European produced timber products, especially in the fields of promotion, research and standardisation – and it analyses the economic, social and technical developments regarding primary timber processing.

All this activity – and the activity of its members – has made EOS a key player in the European timber industry. In 2000 EOS members produced 71.5 million m³ of softwood sawn timber and 7.2 million m³ of hardwood sawn timber. This represents 75% and 43% respectively of total sawn timber production in Europe.

Following that successful year for sawn timber, Mr De Jaeger says the developments on most European markets in the first half of 2001 – with the exception of Germany which is experiencing a further decline in construction activity – were normal.

‘European suppliers succeeded in strengthening their position on the North American and Asian markets. The events of September 11 have, however, made it most problematic to make predictions for the future. It is not yet clear what impact these events will have on consumer behaviour and the sawn timber markets.’

Mr De Jaeger says sawmills in many countries are also hampered by an acute lack of logs, making it difficult for them to fulfil demand for high quality sawn timber.

He said: ‘The supply of roundwood of larger dimensions or of bad quality, including wood attacked by beetles following the 1999 windfall, is maintained at a good level, causing continued pressure on this market segment.

‘As a consequence, a production reduction of up to 10% can be expected in the EOS countries in the second half of 2001 compared to 2000, thus avoiding overstraining the European markets for sawn timber.’

Mr De Jaeger says the main issues affecting the European sawmill industry include forest certification, subsidies, phytosanitary measures and regulations, raw material supply and developments on the European and international markets.

Forest certification

‘With regard to forest certification,’ he said, ‘mutual recognition between the two main forest certification schemes, PEFC and FSC, is still a long way off. In the meantime, the “tribal warfare” continues, to the detriment of all the woodworking industries.

‘In 2002, a strong rise in the offer of roundwood from certified forests can be expected. The European sawmills appeal to the woodworking industry and the timber trade to prepare for chain of custody certification in order to be able to supply their customers with certified wood products.’

In this context, says Mr De Jaeger, legislation is being introduced in the Netherlands which will make it mandatory for all wood products to carry a label indicating whether or not the wood derives from sustainably managed forests.

‘Any wood product not actively given a green label to indicate that it comes from a sustainably managed forest is automatically given a red label to indicate the contrary,’ he explained.

Although in favour of sustainable forest management, EOS members oppose the development of this red/green labelling scheme, which they say constitutes a barrier to trade. The case is being investigated by the European Commission, which has taken the matter up with the Dutch government.

EOS is also opposed to subsidies for the creation of new sawmill capacities and will be acting with the European authorities to ensure that market-disturbing subsidies in the sawmilling sector are prevented as the EU expands.

Another issue EOS follows is the development of phytosanitary regulations for the export of wood to China. Last July China introduced phytosanitary certification for all imported logs and requires the wood to be treated by fumigation or with the insecticide cypermethrine. EOS hopes that China’s recent accession to the WTO will lead to the removal of this barrier to trade for European exporters.

Mr De Jaeger says recent problems regarding the export of beech to China have led EOS members to draft a common European classification system. Three classification schemes have been worked out to make EOS members more competitive on the Asian market and these have been translated into Chinese to avoid any misunderstanding with Chinese customers.

EOS is also following up the European Commission’s decision in March last year to introduce temporary emergency measures for the protection of EU forests against pinewood nematode, a defoliating pest endemic in some Asian countries and North America.

Mr De Jaeger explained: ‘The measures apply to wood packing comprised in whole or in part of non-manufactured coniferous wood originating in Canada, China, Japan and the US. These measures, which came into force on October 1 2001, provide for import inspections and monitoring of non-manufactured round and sawn coniferous wood to ensure that adequate further treatment has been provided.’

Another issue affecting EOS members is the Directive on the promotion of electricity from renewable energy sources, approved in September 2001. This requires member states to ensure that 12% of gross internal energy consumption and 22.1% of electricity consumption comes from renewable energies by 2010 and forms a major step in the EU’s efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr De Jaeger said: ‘Together with CEI-Bois, the European Confederation of Woodworking Industries, EOS achieved a remarkable success in this dossier when the definition of biomass within this Directive went from “untreated wood” to “waste and residues from forestry and related industries”, thereby avoiding a detrimental effect on the competitiveness of our companies.’

Raw material supply

Closely linked to the Directive is the issue of the guarantee of raw material supply which is of particular importance for the sawmill industry. Mr De Jaeger said EOS continues to work to ensure that European legislation takes account of the fact that the incineration of wood for the production of energy takes place only at the end of the wood’s life cycle, thereby ensuring sufficient quantities of raw material for wood processing.

As a member of CEI-Bois, EOS will be taking part in the European Wood Day in Brussels on March 20. The aim of the day is to draw attention to the European woodworking sector and to provide a forum for high level contacts between the various parties in the wood chain.

As well as taking part in that event, which is part of European Wood Week, EOS will hold its own spring meeting in preparation for its next General Assembly which takes place in Ghent on May 25-28.