The latest TDUK stats bulletin shows timber import volumes were up by 0.2% (3,000m3) for the first two months of 2024 (the latest figures available) following improvements in February after a disappointing January start.

Overall, however, volumes remain subdued in line with weaker construction output and a generally lacklustre economy.

Softwood, hardwood, particleboard and MDF have all experienced lower volumes compared to the first two months of 2023, whereas plywood, OSB and engineered wood products are currently ahead of last year. 

Solid wood imports were 2% lower than in the first two months of 2023, while imports of panel products were nearly 5% higher, largely due to big increases in imported hardwood plywood driven by imports of eucalyptus-faced plywood from China. 

According to the most recently released HMRC statistics, softwood plywood imports have experienced a 23.8% fall compared with January-February 2023. These statistics suggest the first two months of 2024 have been the worst start to a year for softwood plywood since 2012 – mainly due to a poor January.

But this is not being reflected in the coniferous plywood quota – which as of 2 May 2024 currently only has 4% remaining. TDUK has raised a challenge with HMRC to resolve this clear discrepancy between the trends apparent in their import statistics and the remaining quota. 

TDUK Head of Technical and Trade Nick Boulton said economic indicators for 2024 had improved in recent months. 

He cited anecdotal improvements in the number of enquiries received by housebuilders. This and the likely softening in interest rates and more upbeat build forecasts from some housebuilders suggests housing starts for 2024 may be better than predicted.

This is expected to result in better-than-expected volumes of timber imports, particularly in the softwood sector.

TDUK members can sign in and read the full report at TDUK