Recovery in EU tropical veneer imports continued
The upturn in EU imports of hardwood veneer which
began in 2013 continued last year. The EU imported
542,000 cu.m of hardwood veneer from outside the region
in 2016, 12% more than in 2015. Imports from the tropics
increased 10% to 313,400 cu.m, exceeding 300,000 cu.m
for the first time since 2011.
However, EU imports of tropical veneer are still well
below volumes of over 400,000 cu.m per annum
prevailing before the financial crises (Chart 1).
EU imports of veneer from temperate countries increased
14% to 228,900 cu.m in 2016, almost entirely due to a
39% rise in trade with Ukraine to 81,600 cu.m following
the country¡¯s decision to implement a log export ban from
November 2015 which encouraged increased exports of
processed hardwood products from Ukraine in 2016.
EU imports of hardwood veneer from Gabon, the leading
tropical supplier, ended the year 19% up compared to
2015 at 167,600 cu.m. This is due both to better
consumption in the EU and to rising investment in veneer
production capacity in Gabon, on-going ever since the
country banned log exports in May 2010.
Strong growth in EU imports of Gabon veneer in the first
half of 2016 was sufficient to offset a slowdown in the
second half of the year when trade was disrupted during
the dispute over Gabon¡¯s presidential election.
In 2016, there were also increases in EU veneer imports
from Congo (+9% to 17,100 cu.m), Equatorial Guinea
(+17% to 8,400 cu.m) and the Democratic Republic of
Congo (+3% to 4213 cu.m). These gains offset a slight
decline in imports from Côte d'Ivoire (-3% to 64,700
cu.m), Cameroon (-1% to 29,900 cu.m) and Ghana (-3.4%
to 9,100 cu.m) (Chart 2).
Nearly all the largest EU markets for tropical veneer
imported more in 2016. Imports increased into France
(+16% to 135,000 cu.m), Italy (+2% to 68,500 cu.m),
Spain (+15% to 41,600 cu.m), Greece (+22% to 20,000
cu.m), Germany (+3% to 14,500 cu.m), and Belgium
(+62% to 11,300 cu.m). These gains offset a decline in
imports by Romania (-36% to 9,400 cu.m) and the
Netherlands (-1% to 6,800 cu.m).
EU plywood imports rise to near record levels
EU imports of plywood increased by 8% to 4.13 million
cu.m in 2016, the second highest level ever recorded,
although some way short of the peak of around 4.50
million cu.m in 2007 (Chart 3).
Much of the gain in 2016 was due to a sharp increase in
imports of birch plywood from Russia encouraged by
extreme weakness of the Russian rouble against the euro
and other EU currencies. In 2016, EU imports of Russian
birch plywood increased 25% to 1.08 million cu.m, with
most destined for Germany, the Baltic States, Poland, the
UK and Netherlands.
EU imports of tropical hardwood plywood also increased
last year. Imports of products manufactured in tropical
countries increased 11% to 320,000 cu.m in 2016, while
imports of products faced with tropical hardwood
manufactured in China increased 25% to 120,000 cu.m.
In 2016, the share of tropical countries in total EU
plywood imports recovered a little ground, rising to 7.8%
after sliding to an all-time low of 7.5% in 2015 (Charts 4
However, Russian birch plywood achieved by far the
largest increase in share of EU imports last year, rising
from 22.4% in 2015 to 26.0% in 2016. This was largely at
the expense of Chinese plywood faced with non-tropical
hardwoods (including birch plywood, mixed light
hardwood made with plantation grown poplar and
eucalyptus, and various other forms of combi-plywood).
Between 2015 and 2016, EU imports of Chinese nontropical
hardwood plywood fell 4% to 1.01 million cu.m
and share of this commodity in total imports fell from
27.5% to 24.5%.
EU imports of softwood plywood increased by 2% to 1.33
million cu.m in 2016, with rising imports from Brazil
(+5% to 890,000 cu.m), Chile (+2% to 220,000 cu.m) and
Russia (+13% to 100,000 cu.m). These gains offset a 36%
fall in EU imports of softwood plywood from China, to
The changing composition of EU plywood imports may be
partly related to enforcement of EUTR and CE marking
requirements which is encouraging a shift from Chinese
mixed light hardwood products to plywood containing
more clearly identified species of known origin and
This factor tends to favour Russian birch plywood and
Chinese plywood faced with hardwood species of known
tropical origin, together with plywood imported directly
from tropical countries.
During 2016, EU imports of tropical hardwood plywood
increased 21% to 119,000 cu.m from Indonesia and 10%
to 116,500 cu.m from Malaysia.
There was also a 13% increase in EU imports of this
commodity from Brazil, although at 19,000 cu.m in 2016,
trade with Brazil is less than one tenth of the level
prevailing a decade ago. EU imports of tropical hardwood
plywood from Gabon declined by 4% to 38,600 cu.m in
2016. (Chart 6).
Rise in tropical hardwood plywood imports
concentrated in the UK
Last year¡¯s increase in EU imports of tropical hardwood
faced plywood manufactured in China was heavily
concentrated in the UK (Chart 7).
In recent years, of all EU importing countries, the UK has
been most tempted by the low prices and relatively short
transit times offered by Chinese plywood suppliers.
UK importers have also been under intense pressure to
demonstrate conformance to EUTR after the NMO, the
UK¡¯s enforcement agency, published a report in February
2015 revealing failures by several UK importers of
Chinese plywood to meet regulatory requirements.
Specific concerns were raised over the lack of accurate
information on species content in Chinese hardwood
The sharp rise in UK imports of Chinese plywood faced in
tropical hardwood may therefore be a result of efforts to
ensure more accurate identification of species content.
It also suggests that a significant proportion of this
material is faced with FSC or PEFC certified tropical
hardwood, or at least that Chinese manufacturers are now
successfully reassuring customers of the legality of their
tropical veneer supplies by other means.
The rise in EU imports of Malaysian plywood in 2016 was
destined almost exclusively for the UK. Rising imports
from Indonesia were more evenly distributed between the
UK, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. These gains
were sufficient to offset a big fall in imports of Indonesian
plywood by Belgium.
For Gabon plywood during 2016, a gain in Dutch imports
was offset by a decline in imports by Italy and France.
More than 50% of all EU plywood imports from Gabon
were destined for the Netherlands during 2016, while 30%
were destined for Italy.
In 2016, direct imports of Gabon plywood into France,
traditionally one of the largest markets for this commodity,
were only around 5100 cu.m, less than half the level of
imports typical in the years before 2013.