At the European Softwood Conference held in Berlin in October, Thierry Bergerault, a spokesperson for importers, equated the current price of unsorted Scandinavian softwood to the same levels that were being achieved in 1985.

There are few industries where prices have gone backwards to such an extent as softwood, and the deflation has put enormous pressure on the industry to cut costs.

In fact the face of the softwood industry has changed beyond all recognition. If there was ever a case for ‘safety in numbers’, the current maxim could read ‘in the lack of them’, because in today’s market the trend is for the big to get bigger. Small- and medium-sized mills are being forced to close, or are vacuumed up by the giant forest products groups.

The Softwood Conference, which brings together the world’s leading importers and exporters, is a forum that provides a global interchange of ideas relating to technological advancement, environmental issues and economic indicators and trends. The UK is represented by the Timber Trade Federation, and the other importers include France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Greece. Among the exporting nations are Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia, Canada, the US, Latvia, Austria and Germany.

This year’s conference did not shy away from dealing with the hard realities of trading, while also appraising the positive effects of promotion and marketing.

The weak price structure of softwood was highlighted and, in addition, the low profitability within the industry was again echoed from previous years.