Larger shipments of softwood lumber from the Nordic countries, North America and Russia to meet an expected surge in demand from earthquake-hit Japan are “probable” later this year, according to forest industry consultant Wood Resources International (WRI).

WRI has also reported Japanese enquiries for glulam and other pre-cut wood products that can be used more quickly than commodity lumber and plywood in the initial rebuilding efforts.

Japan was already the world’s largest plywood importer and third largest lumber importer before the earthquake, which is estimated to have destroyed hundreds of thousands of timber frame homes. Imports this year could be the highest since 2008.

WRI’s Hakan Ekstrom said short-term and long-term changes in Japan’s importation of forest products were still “uncertain”, but there was no doubt of the need for considerable volumes of construction material in the coming years.

“It is not likely that imports of lumber, plywood and sawlogs will increase much in the next few months before ports and access roads have been cleared and the power has been restored for at least the most basic needs,” said WRI’s Hakan Ekstrom.

“But over the next 6-12 months, it can be expected that there will be a rise in demand for both lumber and plywood. This will result in increased importation of processed products and logs to supply domestic Japanese mills.

“Based on contacts already established between importers in Japan and manufacturers around the world, it is probable that there will be higher shipments of softwood lumber from Canada, the US, Russia, Sweden and Finland.”

Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian plywood exports to Japan are expected to grow.

Shares in leading North American lumber producers, including Weyerhaeuser and Interfor, rose sharply following the earthquake as industry commentators speculated on the benefits for International Timber traders.

Timber frame houses are common in Japan for their earthquake-resistant properties, though many were destroyed by the tsunami.

The Japan-based International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) has now reopened after closing its Yokohoma offices as a precautionary measure following the earthquake. It has also suspended its mid-March market report.

Meanwhile, Weyerhaeuser is donating US$500,000 to the American Red Cross to support its work in “immediate, short-term relief efforts” in the disaster-affected region.

Weyerhaeuser started selling lumber to Japan in 1923 following the Great Kanto earthquake that devastated Tokyo and Yokohama. Japan now accounts for around 10% of its turnover.