1st International Softwood Conference: Different markets but one goal: increase the use of wood

26 October 2006

1st International Softwood Conference: Different markets but one goal: increase the use of wood

21 delegations from 19 different countries, representing more than 80% of the global market in sawn softwood, met in Quebec City, Canada on 19th and 20th of October 2006 for the 1st International Softwood Conference. Canada Wood Group represented by its Quebec partner, the Quebec Wood Export Bureau, hosted the event.
The conference has its history in the European Softwood Conference that would have celebrated its 54th anniversary this year. The globalisation of the softwood trade is the reason why the conference has changed name and format, and for the 1st time the conference was held outside Europe.
The conference reviewed the past, present and future developments in the international markets for sawn softwood and wood related products and discussed key issues affecting the sector.
The conference started out by showing that harvest of softwood logs remain below the long term sustainable production. In North America the fellings are 80% of the Net Annual Increment. In Western Europe the corresponding figure is 62%. The statistical survey was made on behalf of the conference in collaboration with the Timber Committee of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. This survey showed that European ISC countries remained a net exporter of sawn softwood in 2005 of about 7.7 million cubic metre. For 2006 and 2007 the average net export is forecast to be 8.2 million cubic meters. The producers expect the production of softwood sawn wood in 2006 to reach 129 million cubic meters in Europe as a whole. There’s a stable growth of the Russian production. The German production is also forecast a significant rise in 2006 of 13.2 % due to new capacity being installed. Swedish production that rose in 2005 by 5.4% is forecast to increase again in 2006 by 3.8% and then to fall back in 2007 when most of the windthrown wood from the 2005 storm will have been processed. The production in North America reached a peak in 2005 at 128 million cubic meters but will fall back in 2006 reflecting the deteriorating market situation in the United States.
The consumption in the United States peaked in 2005 at 110 million cubic meters and is falling back to about 106 million cubic meter in 2006. In the meantime the demand in Europe as a whole is increasing by 2.6% to 110 million cubic meters.
The statistical analysis also showed the ever growing importance of China as an importer and exporter of wood products. The country has become the largest wood products exporter by value and the 2nd largest importer of logs and sawn wood after the United States.
The market discussions showed a less positive situation for the softwood markets in North America. Final 2006 construction is forecast to reach 1.8 million units and continue to fall down in the range between 1.56 and 1.68 million units of housing starts in 2007. In Europe the situation is the opposite with growth on many markets, especially in Eastern Europe. Construction starts in Central and Eastern Europe are growing by 4% in 2006 and are estimated to reach 6 and 10% in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
The Japanese economy has recovered and is now showing growth. Japan remains an important market for producers in the ISC region. Special emphasis was given to the increased usage of engineered wood products such as glulam. The participants also enjoyed the presentation on the development of the Australian softwood market. Australian production at a forecast 4,2 million cubic meters in 2006/07 is now exceeding their consumption and some volumes are being exported. Common challenges to the global softwood industry were dealt with during workshops sessions. The subjects covered the impacts of the globalization of the softwood trade, promotion of wood frame construction and market access issues such as phytosanitary regulations and product certification. To reach better results in the promotion of wood the importance of collaboration between the industry in different regions was underlined. The importance for industry to work proactively together with government to avoid trade barriers was also identified. The softwood conference, in the future, should serve as a forum for industry to prepare such issues.
A panel discussion on the market development in China was held. Existing initiatives of collaboration such as the issue of fire codes was used as an example of how cross continental co-operation can enhance the efficiency of our marketing initiatives in China. Work aiming at convincing policy makers that specifying and promoting an increased use of wood products will help in resolving some of consequences of climate change was a topic of another session. Green building initiatives in North America and the “wood in sustainable development” action in Europe were reviewed as well as public procurement policies in various countries. The last session of the conference displayed ongoing wood promotion activities in both Europe and North America with the objective to learn from experiences across different regions. In the concluding remarks the conference chairmen thanked the organising body, the Quebec Wood Export Bureau, for the high standard of the conference and the perfect organisation of meetings and side-events, including a two-day study tour to sawmilling and woodworking companies in Québec.