The timber industry is approaching the time “when cheap wood will be scarce”, according to Guy Bewick of Pacific Lumber Services (UK) Ltd, who advised traders to develop their relationships with their suppliers.

Addressing the London Softwood Club meeting on April 19, Mr Bewick shared his view of existing global trade and made several predictions, including regarding prices.

“I know there are some cynics out there who say that the timber world hasn’t changed, the timber trade will never be short of wood and there will be rises and falls in perpetuity,” he said.

“If history is to be relied upon, then they are correct. However, I contend that with biomass power generation in full swing by the end of 2014; the US market returning to normal rates of housing construction by 2015; and continuing demand from the Far East, the Middle East, north Africa, northern Europe and new markets, then I can only see the price graph going one way.

“There will be hiccups along the way,” he added, “but I believe the long-term trend is positive”.

Mr Bewick said for the last two years the UK market had been “pretty hellish” for importers seeking any margin, although the flip-side was that the home-grown sector had been able to take a larger share of the commodity market.

“The [UK] mills continue to expand their volumes and seem to be running at pretty near full capacity,” he said. “Price increases have been achieved recently but there is still plenty of room for further increases considering the prices of imported material.”

His view is that importers fortunes are improving, “albeit slowly”, due in part to a freeing up of mortgage finance as smaller institutions provide more competition in the market.

“A lot of customers are telling me they are quoting and tendering for more business than for quite a time,” said Mr Bewick. “The housebuilders all report strong growth, both of profits and volumes. Furthermore, forward reservations are continually improving…I am sure this will eventually be felt in the market.”

Mr Bewick mentioned several growth areas in the global timber trade and highlighted sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

“There are many pitfalls in dealing with this region but the economies are growing. Ghana is anticipating a 13% increase in GDP this year and there are many other countries in the region anticipating double digit expansion.

“I believe there will be scope for the timber industry in this region as a logical offshoot of such progress is an increase in infrastructure and house development.”