Slowing pace of EU tropical timber imports
EU imports of tropical timber products increased sharply
between January and May this year, but slowed again in
the four months to end September 2016 (Chart 1).
Nevertheless, the value of EU imports of tropical timber
across all product groups in the first 9 months of 2016
was, at euro1.741 billion, 2% greater than the same period
the previous year. So far EU imports of tropical timber in
2016 have been close to levels last seen in 2011.
In the first nine months of 2016 there was a rise in the
value of EU imports of tropical sawn (+6%), joinery
(+2.2%), plywood (+8.5%), veneers (+14%) and logs
(+2.6%). These gains offset a decline in the value of EU
imports of tropical decking and mouldings (-13.5%),
charcoal (-3.2%), flooring (-20.4%) and marquetry (-7%).
Exchange rates have continued to have a significant
impact on EU imports of tropical timber in 2016. The
euro-dollar rate, having fallen around 20% in the 12
months prior to April 2015, has remained relatively flat at
the lower level ever since.
Meanwhile the British pound weakened by around 15%
against the dollar following the Brexit vote in June this
year and remains stalled at the lower level.
This has contributed to price inflation for European
importers. The dampening effect of exchange rate has only
been partly offset by low freight rates which hit historical
lows on many routes in the first half of 2016 in response to
over-capacity in shipping and low oil prices.
Only marginal increase in EU tropical sawn imports
EU imports of tropical sawn increased by 2% to 810,900
cu.m in the first nine months of 2016. Imports from
Cameroon, the largest supplier, increased 29% to 300,200
There was also significant growth in imports from Gabon
(+27% to 89,700 cu.m) and Congo (+22% to 47,000cu.m),
a reversal of fortune for both countries which lost share in
the EU market in 2015.
These gains offset a large fall in imports from Malaysia (-
35% to 112,500 cu.m), Brazil (-15% to 84,600 cu.m) and
Ivory Coast (-29% to 44,000 cu.m). (Chart 3).
EU imports of tropical logs stable at low level
After recovering a little ground in 2015, EU imports of
tropical hardwood logs have remained static in 2016.
Imports during the first nine months of 2016 were 127,200
cu.m, exactly the same period the previous year. However,
there was a shift in the source of supply. EU imports of
tropical logs increased from Congo (+13% to 31,600
cu.m), Central African Republic (+24% to 17,500 cu.m),
and Liberia (+21% to 5,500 cu.m).
These gains offset declining imports from Cameroon (-
13% to 26,500 cu.m) and Equatorial Guinea (-19% to
8,000 cu.m). Imports from DRC remained stable at 27,100
cu.m. (Chart 4).
Slide in EU tropical decking imports
EU imports of tropical mouldings (which includes both
interior mouldings and exterior decking products) were
166,900 cu.m in the first nine months of 2016, 3% less
than the same period in 2015.
Imports decreased from all the major supply countries
including Indonesia (-1% to 73,000 cu.m), Brazil (-5% to
57,600 cu.m), Malaysia (-12% to 12,600 cu.m) and Peru (-
6% to 4,900 cu.m).
However, deliveries from several African countries,
including Gabon, Cote dí»Ivoire and Cameroon, increased
from a low base. (Chart 5).
Tropical wood import trends across Europe more
variable this year
A closer look at the individual EU countries reveals that
following consistent EU-wide growth in 2015, tropical
wood import trends have been more variable this year.
Strong rise in Belgian imports of tropical timber
Imports of tropical timber have risen strongly into
Belgium this year, rising 10.4% to euro291.4 million
across all product groups during the first nine months.
This rapid growth means that Belgium has been the largest
importer of tropical timber in the EU so far in 2016,
overtaking the UK. Much of the rise in Belgian imports
has consisted of sawnwood, notably from Cameroon and
The strong rise in Belgian imports is probably indicative
more of evolving distribution networks in the wider EU
market than of changes in Belgiumí»s own internal market.
The Belgian construction industry and other consuming
sectors are relatively small and growing only slowly at
However, EUTR and other logistical factors continue to
concentrate more tropical timber trade in the hands of a
few large importers close to the major European ports.
Much of the tropical timber imported into Belgium is
likely consumed in neighbouring EU countries.
Flat lining UK imports of tropical timber
After strong gains in 2015, imports of tropical timber into
the UK have been flat this year, up only 0.7% at euro287.2
million in the first 9 months.
The UK is importing more tropical hardwood plywood
this year, increasingly from China, but there have also
been gains in imports from both Indonesia and Malaysia.
UK imports of sawnwood from the Congo Republic have
also increased in 2016.
However, these gains in the UK have been offset by
declining imports of flooring from Indonesia and
Malaysia, and of sawnwood from Guyana.
More positively, UK importers report that hardwood
consumption has remained reasonably buoyant in the UK
despite the Brexit vote and rising material costs.
The latest Joinery State of Trade Survey by the British
Woodworking Federation shows UK joinery sales
increased again in the July to September 2016 period, the
10th successive quarter of growth.
Declining tropical imports despite good timber
demand in Germany
Deliveries of tropical wood into the German market
declined 4.7% to euro210.8 million in the first nine
months of 2016. This is disappointing at a time when
underlying consumption trends in Germany are good and
there is pressure on supply of temperate hardwood species,
The German timber trade federation GD Holz reports
strong growth in wood product sales in Germany this year,
particularly due to strong demand for new apartments and
for renovation projects.
Demand for garden decking and other exterior wood
products in Germany has continued to expand in Germany
during 2016, but at a slower pace than other sectors such
as internal doors and flooring.
The German market for tropical decking products suffers
from intense competition from wood plastic composites.
There has been a particularly sharp drop in German
imports of decking from Indonesia this year.
Dutch switching to engineered wood
Imports of tropical timber products into the Netherlands
increased 3.4% to euro250.1 million in the first 9 months
of this year.
A sharp fall in Dutch imports of sawnwood from Malaysia
was offset by rising imports of LVL from both Malaysia
and Indonesia. This may be indicative of a further shift
towards engineered wood in the Dutch windows sector,
although the Netherlands also imported more sawnwood
from Cameroon and the Congo Republic in the first nine
months of 2016.
Imports of tropical plywood have been rising into the
Netherlands this year, particularly of okoume plywood
from Gabon and tropical hardwood plywood manufactured
in China. Dutch consumption of tropical hardwood is
buoyed by continuing robust growth in the construction
Euroconstruct estimate that the value of Dutch
construction activity will increase 5.5% this year
following 7.5% growth in 2015.
Another fall in French imports of tropical timber
French imports of tropical timber products have declined
again in 2016. The value of imports of all tropical timber
products into France fell 8.7% to euro233.1 million in the
first nine months of the year.
A large decline in imports of sawnwood, decking and
flooring from Brazil and of decking from Peru and
Indonesia, was only partly offset by a rise in imports of
sawnwood from Cameroon and veneer from Gabon. The
latter was most likely rotary veneer to supply the French
plywood manufacturing industry.
There are some positive signs that the French economy is
improving in 2016. After several years of decline, housing
construction in France began to rise in 2015 and this trend
has continued in 2016.
Non-residential construction activity in France decreased
slightly in 2015 but has recovered a little ground in 2016.
The French government also has various programs in
place that aim to increase the proportion of wood used in
construction from current very low levels, although these
are targeted primarily at expanding markets for
domestically produced timber.
Rising demand for French oak logs, both for domestic
processing and from China and other export markets, led
to a 40% increase in price for this commodity between
2012 and 2015, and the rising trend has continued in 2016.
Overall these trends may provide better market
opportunities for external suppliers of wood products into
France in the future.
Italy imports more tropical timber despite economic
Imports of tropical timber products into Italy have made
gains in 2016 despite the countryí»s continuing economic
The value of imports of all tropical timber products into
Italy increased 13% to euro163.3 million in the first nine
months of the year. This year there has been a rise in the
value of Italyí»s imports of sawnwood from Cameroon and
Myanmar, veneer from Ivory Coast and plywood from
The rise in Italyí»s tropical timber imports in 2016 is an
encouraging trend in a country which remains in economic
Domestic demand is poor, manufacturing capacity has
reduced significantly in recent years and even the once
buoyant export industries of wooden doors, kitchen
cabinets and furniture are facing increasing competition
and lower demand.
Some of the gains in Italyí»s tropical wood imports this
year are being made at the expense of temperate
hardwoods, such as American tulipwood which competes
with lighter tropical woods in the mouldings sector. Some
larger Italian importers are also offsetting weak local
markets by expanding sales elsewhere in the EU.
Rising tropical timber imports by Spain and Portugal
The value of tropical timber product imports into Spain
and Portugal both made gains in the first nine months of
2016, although for different reasons. Imports into Spain
increased 13% to euro86 million with nearly all the gain
due to rising imports of sawnwood from Cameroon,
mainly comprising ayous, iroko, sapele and tali.
Sawnwood from Cameroon now constitutes nearly one
quarter of the value of all imports of tropical timber into
Spain as imports of other products such as Brazilian
decking and veneer and African tropical logs have
declined to negligible levels.
Imports of tropical timber products into Portugal increased
12% to euro51.7 million in the first nine months of 2016,
but in this case most of the gain comprised hardwood
chips from Brazil.
Economic conditions in Portugal remain very challenging
and this is reflected in continued weakness in Portugalí»s
market for tropical sawn timber. Portuguese imports of
this commodity, sourced primarily from Cameroon, Brazil
and the Congo Republic, have been very slow throughout
Rising Portuguese imports of hardwood chips is one
outcome of Portugalí»s National Energy Strategy which
seeks to ensure that over 30% of national energy
consumption derives from renewable resources by 2020. A
significant subsidy for biomass power production is now
provided by the Portuguese government.
The assumption is that the biomass should derive
primarily from domestic forest resources. However,
demand for biomass seems to outstripping domestic
supply and Portuguese energy suppliers are therefore
turning more to imported wood fibre, including from
Note that for this analysis and in the absence of better
data, all hardwood products imported into the EU from
Brazil are classified as í░tropicalí▒. While this is appropriate
for products like decking and veneers, it may be less
appropriate for chips which are more likely to derive from
eucalyptus plantations than from natural tropical forests.