EU sawn tropical hardwood imports continue to slide
The latest trade data shows that EU imports of sawn
tropical hardwood have continued to slide this year,
despite on-going economic recovery in the region. The
decline is not restricted to tropical products. EU imports of
sawn temperate hardwood have also declined in 2017,
although at a slower rate than for tropical hardwood.
Chart 1, which reports 12-month rolling data to remove
short-term variability and emphasise long term trends,
shows that EU imports of both tropical and temperate
sawn hardwood declined after reaching a peak in the
middle of last year. For sawn tropical hardwood, the 12-
month rolling total import fell from 1.15 million m3 to
0.95 million m3 between June 2016 and August 2017.
After a brief surge in the second half of last year, EU
imports from Cameroon, the largest EU supplier, slowed
dramatically in 2017. There has also been a sharp fall in
imports from Malaysia, and a slower decline from Brazil,
Gabon, Cote d¡¯Ivoire, Congo, DRC, and Ghana. (Chart 2).
Most tropical sawnwood is now imported into the EU by
way of large distributors in Belgium and the Netherlands.
This is due to partly to the large volume of green (undried)
lumber imported from Africa which is kilned at facilities
close to the ports in both countries, and partly to EUTR
which has discouraged many smaller importers from
dealing direct with tropical suppliers.
The central role of re-exports from Belgium and the
Netherlands makes it more difficult to determine from
trade statistics exactly where this year¡¯s slowdown in EU
tropical wood consumption is concentrated. However, the
decline seems to be widespread across the continent.
There was a very dramatic fall in imports into both transit
countries, as well as into France and Italy. Imports into
Germany and Spain, which are now relatively limited,
have slowed this year, while imports into the UK and
Portugal have been flat. (Chart 3).
The decline in EU imports of sawn tropical hardwood is
particularly disappointing at a time when economic
conditions in the EU seem to be improving. The latest
annualised GDP numbers show the euro zone is growing
at 2.3%, faster than the U.S. where growth is 2.2%.
Eurozone unemployment has fallen to the lowest level
since 2009, while manufacturing output in the region is up
3.2% on last year.
To some extent weak imports into the EU during 2017 are
supply related. Exporters of sawn hardwood in all regions
have benefitted this year from steady demand from China
at a time when supply of favoured species have been
Buyers in other Asian markets and the Middle East are
also now more active. Restrictions on log exports in
several countries are also boosting global demand for
European importers, therefore, have to secure supplies in
competition with other buyers, many of which are willing
to pay better prices. The demands of the EUTR, which has
led EU importers to focus their buying on a much
narrower range of tropical suppliers, also encourages
supply to be diverted to other markets.
Lingering economic uncertainties in the EU
However, continuing weaknesses in the European
economy are also likely to be contributing to slow tropical
imports this year.
While the headline GDP figures have improved, the
economic crisis has left deep scars in the EU and many
wounds are yet to fully heal.
Despite the rapid pace of job creation, eurozone
unemployment remains high (9.1%) and eurozone
economies need to expand faster to generate steeper falls
in unemployment. High rates of unemployment are not
only an indication that the economy is operating at well
below full capacity, but also act as a constant drag on
In France, the economy is expanding at an annualised rate
of 1.7%, fuelled by confidence in French president
Emmanuel Macron and his reform agenda, but growth
continues to lag the euro zone average.
Germany¡¯s economy remains solid, but Germans are
increasingly worried about inequality and low-wage jobs.
Italy¡¯s economy is doing better, but it is starting from a
low base and worries remain over its heavily indebted
Spain was bouncing back well from the crisis, but the
recent secession bid by the wealthy north-eastern region of
Catalonia has created new uncertainty. The Spanish
government currently forecasts the euro zone¡¯s fourthlargest
economy to grow 3% this year, but the standoff
with Catalonia over its independence ambitions has
prompted Madrid to slash growth projections for next
Uncertainty also continues to surround prospects for the
UK economy. In the immediate aftermath of last year¡¯s
referendum decision to leave the EU, the economy initially
proved resilient. However, weakness in the value of the
pound is now feeding through into high inflation which
recently spiked to almost 3 per cent, squeezing real wages.
The slow pace of Brexit negotiations, and the lack of any
clear vision of the UK¡¯s future relationship with the EU
after March 2019 when the country is due to leave the
trading bloc, seems now to be undermining business
investment, which in turn is leading to declining
The continuing uncertainty prompted the International
Monetary Fund to cut its forecast for UK economic growth
in 2017 from 2% to 1.7%. For now, the forecast for 2018
remains unchanged at 1.5 per cent.
ATIBT launches tropical timber branding initiative
A new tropical timber branding initiative is being
launched by the ATIBT (International Tropical Timber
Technical Association) focused on encouraging
¡®qualitative and participatory¡¯ consumption that is
¡®respectful of mankind and the environment¡¯.
The promotional campaign will focus on the brand ¡®Fair &
Precious¡¯, which will be available for use by companies
which ¡°affirm their adherence to strict environmental
standards and allocate significant budgets to ensure
compliance as verified by audits conducted by
These, at least initially, will be ATIBT¡¯s core African
tropical timber producer members, and their customers
among timber processors, traders and distributors in
Europe and around the world. It¡¯s hoped that businesses
that will use and promote the brand will include public and
private sector tropical timber procurers, specifiers,
retailers and end-users large and small.
As well as the importance of sustainable procurement and
the environment, a strong focus of the campaign will also
be on social and corporate responsibility.
¡°Fair & Precious companies will participate in solidaritybased
economic and social growth that is conducive to the
well-being of people living in [tropical timber] production
areas, providing them services such as education, health
care and housing,¡± states the ATIBT.
¡°The brand will be administered from France, where
ATIBT is based, but it is intended to be a European and
even global promotional initiative,¡± said ATIBT
Marketing Programme Coordinator Christine Le Paire.
¡°Besides companies in African countries and France, our
members include Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian,
English, and American companies.¡±
Fair & Precious will be officially launched on November 8
by ATIBT President Robert Hunink at Paris¡¯s Garden of
Tropical Agriculture in Nogent-sur-Marne.
ATIBT is promoting ¡®Fair & Precious¡¯ alongside another
new website www.mytropicaltimber.org described as a
launching pad for the sector designed to deliver broad
messaging on tropical timber to a wide market audience
and give descriptions and applications of a broad range of
species, plus supplier listings.
STTC calls for greater focus on marketing and
The Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC)
conference held in Aarhus, Denmark, in September
highlighted that work by European governments, trade and
NGOs to encourage certification in tropical producing
countries must be linked to concerted efforts to increase
certified tropical timber market demand.
The conference focused on promotion and marketing of
tropical timber in the EU under the headline theme
¡°sustainably sourced tropical timber: selling a positive
To tackle the topic, speakers came not only from across
the EU timber sector, but also from NGOs and marketing
agencies, with a keynote delivered by brands expert and
marketeer Nigel Hollis, Executive Vice President of
international consultancy Kantar Millward Brown.
A view shared by speakers and the international audience
of over 100, was that, besides its environmental story, key
to marketing sustainable tropical timber was to present
exemplars of its use. These could demonstrate its
durability, aesthetics, technical performance and overall
sustainability in use, with construction and design
professionals among principal targets.
Mr Hollis effectively summed this up with his comment
¡®great [marketing] content is more than a great
The conference itself did this by including a tour of
tropical timber applications and installations across the
host city. These ranged from decking and seating in new
pedestrian zones, to interior uses in Aarhus¡¯s Aros modern
art gallery and the striking Kulbroen (Coalbridge).
The latter is a derelict concrete coal conveyor in the
reviving harbour area, set to be restored as a public
walkway using FSC tropical timber decking in an STTCbacked
FSC Denmark project. Conference delegates
climbed to the demonstration platform where various
species are being tested on outdoor perfomance.
Aarhus City Architect Stephen Willacy underlined the
potential of such projects by highlighting the latent
appetite of the modern construction sector to build
sustainably with wood. He described the significant role
timber-based housing was set to play in Aarhus as it grew
from a city of 325,000 people to 450,000 by 2050.
Among the sales and marketing-related projects which the
STTC has supported, Iv¨¢n Bermejo Barbier of Copade
presented the joint marketing project the sustainable
development NGO had undertaken with the Spanish arm
of home improvement retail giant Leroy Merlin. This
included creating a database of the company¡¯s tropical
timber suppliers and supporting those still uncertified
towards achieving certification.
Leroy Merlin staff were trained in certification issues and
new in-store point of sale material and a website advert on
sustainable tropical timber were developed. The project
partners also held meetings with public procurement
officers in Madrid and elsewhere to deliver sustainable
tropical timber messaging.
Alberto Romero of Spanish timber trade federation AEIM
described its ambitious marketing led plan for the next
three years. The goal is to increase Spain¡¯s percentage of
verified legally sourced tropical imports from 86% to 95%
of the total, and sustainably sourced from 4% to 12%.
Delegates at the STTC conference were also invited to join
three half hour presentations from a choice of twelve on
themes ranging from using sustainable development goals
in timber sales, to positioning FLEGT when selling
timber, marketing lesser known species and the
importance of market intelligence in boosting sustainably
sourced timber demand.
The Value and Impact Analysis Initiative (VIA), which is
led by the ISEAL Alliance (IA), in partnership with
Kingfisher, IKEA and Tetra Pak, also shared independent
research-backed marketing messages that businesses can
now use in their efforts to communicate the sustainability
benefits of certified tropical timber.
In his keynote, Mr Hollis underlined the importance in
marketing any product of building a strong and coherent
¡°The vast bulk of buying decisions are influenced by
brands,¡± he said. ¡°They are ultimately determined by
emotions and ideas already in your head, but what a strong
brand does is short cut the decision-making process
through building trust and confidence.¡±
It was also important the industry has confidence and pride
in its identity and was not afraid to be unique, pioneering
and to challenge market perceptions. ¡°It¡¯s been shown that
meaningfully different brands grow fastest,¡± said Mr
Following his presentation, he used exercises to guide
delegates, divided into groups, through the process of
developing a potential marketing approach and identity for
sustainable tropical timber. Besides sustainability, climate
change and saving the forest, promotional themes also
emerged from the ¡®teams¡¯ around ¡®pride¡¯, ¡®protection¡¯ and
The Conference closed with a call from IDH for ideas for
the future development of the STTC since its funding
programme in its current form finishes at the end of 2018.
A poll of delegates showed nearly all favouring STTC¡¯s
continuation and put communication at the top of its
Nienke Sleurink of IDH said they will continue to be
involved in STTC and provide some support, perhaps as a
secretariat, but their future role will be more in an enabling
The most likely option for the STTC going forward seems
to be a membership structure, but funding needs to be
found for a coordinator. IDH would like to hear from the
industry on how and in what form the STTC should
continue. To contribute your ideas email
Dutch certification mark to link FSC and PEFC
Independent Netherlands timber research institute
Stichting Hout Research (SHR) has unveiled a new
business certification mark, guaranteeing to their
customers all their timber is 100% sourced from
sustainably managed forest, regardless of sustainability
The STIP (Sustainable Timber in Product) scheme has
been approved by the Dutch Timber Procurement
Assessment Committee, TPAC. SHR Director, Oscar van
Doorn, said it also aligns with the objective of supporters
of the Netherlands¡¯ multi-sector-backed Green Deal and
new Wood Covenant to remove logistical barriers to use of
¡°It¡¯s a breakthrough,¡± he said. ¡°Removing uncertainties
about mixing woods with different chain of custody (CoC)
certificates and facilitating achievement of the broadbased
goal that 100% of timber is from responsibly
The STIP is not itself a CoC, he explained, but a business
mark, confirming that a business only sells timber from
sustainable sources, for example FSC or PEFC forests.
¡°It entails fewer administrative and logistical obligations
and less paperwork for woodworking companies and their
customers,¡± said Mr Van Doorn.
He explained that to become a STIP company, a business
submits to exhaustive evaluation by experts from an
accredited certification body to ensure all their timber is
sourced from responsibly and sustainably managed forest.
Once approved, they are periodically audited to ensure
maintenance of STIP standards.