Plywood issue tackled head on

20 March 2017

There have been grumblings in the UK timber trade for many years about the quality of some of the hardwood plywood imported.

The composition of panels – crucially which species are being used – and the performance of the product for its intended end-use have generated a lot of debate and rightly so.

After all, if a product which says it is fit for exterior use turns out to be duff because the raw materials are actually different from that on the paperwork, then reputational damage for the timber industry and its products is a real risk.

Much of the focus has fallen on Chinese product, which makes up the largest proportion of hardwood ply products on the market. European plywood producers have often expressed frustration that it hasn’t been a level playing field.

The Timber Trade Federation (TTF) has decided enough is enough and that new measures are needed to ensure that products its members import tick all the right boxes.

Meetings with TTF panel trading members have resulted in the National Panel Products Division unanimously agreeing third party species testing and third party product performance testing for all panels placed on the market from outside the EU.

Such a requirement for TTF members can only help improve quality assurance for hardwood plywood imports and it also shows that the timber industry does what it says and is not afraid to hide from difficult issues.

It’s hard to think of another industry which works so hard across the legality, sustainability and product performance areas.

Moving from plywood to softwood and it’s clear that shortages could be on the horizon, reviving prospects of a scenario pre-global financial crisis when securing your supplies was becoming of paramount importance.

With northern European softwood shippers experiencing robust demand from global export markets and rationalisation/capacity reduction occurring in the South Swedish sawmilling sector, the signs point to shortages and further rising prices. News that Rörvik is closing two sawmills will add to that momentum.

And Sweden’s own domestic market is also experiencing very strong construction growth with more wood being consumed.

As TTJ went to press, the Timber Trade Federation’s Softwood Conference in London heard that demand from North America and China were major drivers for growth and that global wood consumption was on the rise.

As president of the European Organisation of the Sawmilling Industry Sampsa Auvinen says in this month’s Opinion, all these factors will probably impact trade more than the outcome of Brexit, at least in the short-term.

The trade will have to adapt, as it always does.