22 October 2007

2nd International Softwood Conference 2007, Geneva, 8-9 October 2007

Combined with the annual meeting of the UNECE Timber Committee, the International Softwood Conference 2007 was held in Geneva on 8 and 9 October 2007. This joint Conference was officially hosted by the Belgian Federation of Timber Importers and UNECE. The combination of the Softwood Conference with the Timber committee allowed for an exchange of information and discussions between the softwood industry and trade and the (national) policy makers.
A highlight at each annual Softwood Conference are the market reports on the development of the softwood markets. The survey produced by the EOS secretariat in co-operation with the statistical services of the UNECE showed the following:

• Production of sawn softwood in Europe will reach another peak in 2007 with a volume of 117 mio m³. Compared to 2006, this represents an increase by 5.8%. Production has increased strongly, in particular in the first half of the year, thanks to the good availability of sawlogs due to favourable weather conditions in many countries and the consequences of the January storms. In the 2nd half, however, production levels have fallen. For 2008 a further growth in production is being expected;
• European consumption in 2007 is expected to close at a volume of about 86 million m³, representing a 5.4% increase compared to the previous year, with additional increases in 2008. Consumption levels were high, in particular in the first half of the year, but have declined slightly since then, causing stock levels to build up in sawmills and with customers/traders;
• The situation in North-America is quite different as consumption is falling by 10% in 2007 to a volume of 124 mio m³, and will continue to fall throughout 2008. This is mainly due to the decline in the US construction market;
• Linked to this, production in North-America is expected to fall by 5.8% reaching a volume of slightly above 117 mio m³ with a downward tendency also for 2008. Apart from the impact of the construction sector, this production reduction is also caused by the recuded log availability situation in Eastern-Canada, in particular in Québec and the reduced profitability of sawmilling operations.

Detailed reports on developments in Europe, North-America and Asia were given by industry and trade experts addressing various aspects of the softwood sector. In this respect, concern was expressed over the impact of China on the international softwood markets, considering the high demand for both softwood logs and timber, coupled with the taxation scheme on log exports introduced by their main log supplier, the Russian government, earlier this year.
Furthermore, the sawmilling industry confirmed that it is preparing the introduction of CE-marking for structural timber products that will become mandatory in the European Union as from 1st September 2008, thus responding to concerns voiced by softwood traders and importers over the state of preparation of the sector. In this context, Prof. Sandoz presented a technical solution for the grading of wood to CE-marking requirements.
There was also a general agreement among the participants that wood and wood products have a very positive role in the climate change debate and can contribute to mitigating its effects. Activities are ongoing at various levels, especially towards policy and decision makers. More work will, however, be required in order to be able to convince also the consumers that wood is part of the solution, and not of the problem.
In order to do so, more joint efforts are required, as well as funding needs to be found. Furthermore, industry will have to be able to provide assurance over the legal sourcing of raw material, especially from areas seen as critical by ENGO’s and consumers worldwide. In this context, the conference also looked at the current impact of wood certification on the softwood markets. Next year’s International Softwood Conference is scheduled to be held in Finland. Details on date and venue will be circulated shortly.
For a more detailed report on the International Softwood Conference/UNECE Timber Committee meeting, please revert to, where presentations and detailed reports can be found electronically.
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