Timber import volumes were down by around 45,000m3 in January. 

Particleboard, engineered wood, OSB and MDF products all saw imports increase slightly at the start of this year.

For softwoods, a 9% reduction in volumes from Sweden was the largest contributor to the 9.6% drop, with import values also 15% lower in January 2024 than they were in January 2023. This fall was caused by the volume decline, coupled with a 5.6% fall in the average price of a basket of softwood products, down from £256/m3 to £241/m3.

Hardwood imports experienced a 13.8% fall, largely due to tropical hardwood imports being down by around 3,000m3. In contrast, volumes of temperate hardwoods increased by 2%, with imports from the USA, Croatia and Romania accounting for most of this growth. 

Overall plywood imports were also down 6%, though hardwood plywood volumes rose 36%, mostly due to a near 18,000m3 increase from China. 

Substantial increases in particleboard imports from Belgium, Portugal and Spain helped account for the sector’s 3.4% growth, while OSB and MDF imports were up 6% and 4.1% respectively. 

Finally, a 12.8% growth in engineered wood product import volumes rounds out the varied January 2024 results. 

TDUK statistics also show that Brexit itself has had little impact on timber import figures since the January 31, 2020, official EU exit date. 

The only sector that has seen a noticeable reduction in European imports is MDF, which has fallen from 97% to 86%. 

TDUK Head of Technical and Trade Nick Boulton said the first month of the year was always difficult to assess import and export trends and a truer reflection will be visible towards the end of Q1. But the 6% reduction in January’s figures “does confirm the greater stability in the market when compared to the high increases and decreases experienced from 2020 to the end of 2022”. 

Mr Bolton said housing starts/completion data for the full 2023 year was likely to be substantially lower once it is made available. 

“Given the importance of the newbuild housing sector to the timber industry, this is likely to indicate we can expect continuing challenges in the short term, and likely until after the coming General Election,” he added.