Building on market momentum

16 January 2019

The EU timber trade faces challenges in 2019, not least the potential impacts of Brexit, but the woodworking industries federation CEI-Bois is determined to help it maintain market impetus, writes secretary-general Patrizio Antonicoli

According to latest figures, the general conditions in the EU wood products market were positive during 2017.

Reported timber consumption increased by 4%, reaching €123bn (according to provisional Eurostat data). Extra-EU28 imports of wood products amounted to €8.8bn, refl ecting a 4% increase compared to 2016, with the key suppliers being China, Russia and the US. Exports also increased in 2017, exceeding €11.8bn.

These trends are in line with general acceleration in the pace of economic activity in the EU, which continued into 2018, driven by internal demand recovery and good performance in exports. The growth of the construction sector, in particular, picked up in the EU, and the industry’s provisional forecast for 2018 into 2019 is also moderately optimistic.

The 66th International Softwood Conference (ISC) held in Riga in October further confi rmed positive expectations for 2019, bar some uncertainties casting a shadow on the overall economic outlook.

The prospect of fully-fl edged trade confl icts, notably between the US and China, does have potentially serious implications for the wider world economy, while the economic effects of Brexit are still uncertain. The latter is, of course, a particular concern for Europe, not least for its timber trade. However, CEI-Bois, working closely with its member the UK Timber Trade Federation, is determined to help minimise the negative impacts and keep communications channels open. As TTF past president and 2018 ISC moderator Keith Fryer wrote in the December issue of TTJ, we have more to gain if we remain involved and engaged with one another – we’ll be more effective and more profi table.

Against this framework, CEI-Bois, will also be engaged in monitoring and advocacy activities through its recently created Trade Working Group. A critical participant in the latter will be the European TTF, which last year became a member of CEI-Bois.

Our key priority is to ensure a level-playing fi eld for European woodworking industries, both for their wood raw material procurement and their sales of semi-fi nished and fi nished wood-based products, according to Free But Fair Trade principles.

Many challenges lie ahead. For instance, one hot topic this year will be wood market access barriers in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, which will impose severe restrictions on birch log exports from this month.

The possible revision of the scope of the EU Timber Regulation, expected to be carried out by the European Commission after the EU elections in May, will also require close attention in order to ensure a level playing fi eld between domestic and extra-EU timber industries.

Advances in negotiations on EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreements (FLEGT VPAs) (the most recent one being signed by the EU and Vietnam in October) and VPA implementation will be also monitored, including in the light of the new EU Communication on Deforestation, expected in 2019.

Finally, CEI-Bois will monitor implementation of the Free Trade Agreement with Japan, ratifi ed in December by the European Parliament. The aim is to ensure that remaining technical barriers in the seventh biggest export market for the European wood industry will be effectively removed for our companies.