EU tropical sawn hardwood imports fall to all-time
The EU imported 2.04 million cu.m of sawn hardwood
from outside the region in 2017, 13% less than the
previous year. (Chart 1).
EU imports of tropical sawn hardwood were 875,000 cu.m
in 2017, 18% less than the previous year. Imports of
tropical sawn hardwood last year were the lowest ever
recorded by the EU, below the previous low of 930,000
cu.m in 2013 during the euro-zone crises and only around
a third of the level prevailing before the global financial
The value of EU imports of tropical sawn timber
decreased by 16% to €653 million in 2017. The average
unit value of tropical sawn hardwood imports into the EU
in 2017 was €746 per cubic meter, up from €728 per cubic
meter the previous year.
In 2017, EU imports of temperate sawn hardwood fell by
8% to 1.16 million cu.m. The more rapid pace of decline
in imports from the tropics meant that the share of tropical
in total EU sawn hardwood imports fell from 46% in 2016
to 43% in 2017, an acceleration in the long term
downward trend (Chart 2).
Sharp fall in EU imports of African sawn wood
The most notable trend in the supply of sawn hardwood to
the EU in 2017 was the sharp fall in imports from Africa,
particularly from Cameroon, but also Gabon, Congo, Cote
d¡¯Ivoire, Ghana and DRC. Imports from Malaysia and
Brazil were more stable (Chart 3).
Following a surge in 2016, EU imports from countries in
the Congo region declined sharply in 2017. Imports
decreased by 24% from Cameroon to 316,000 cu.m, by
22% from Gabon to 99,000 cu.m, by 17% from Congo to
54,000 cu.m, and by 51% from DRC to 16,000 cu.m.
Last year, there was also a continuation of the long-term
decline in EU imports of sawn hardwood from West
Africa. Imports fell by 21% to 48,000 cu.m from Côte
d'Ivoire, and by 23% to 20,000 cu.m from Ghana.
EU imports from Brazil and Malaysia were more stable in
2017, although only a shadow of earlier levels having
already declined significantly in previous years. Last year
the EU imported 148,000 cu.m of sawn hardwood imports
from Malaysia 2% more than the previous year, and
105,000 cu.m from Brazil, 1% less than in 2016.
The decline in imports of tropical sawn hardwood during
2017 was particularly notable in Belgium (down 29% to
266,000 cu.m), France (down 26% to 105,000 cu.m), Italy
(down 25% to 103,000 cu.m), Spain (down 22% to 56,000
cu.m) and Germany (down 21% to 40,000 cu.m).
Imports increased 5% to 145,000 cu.m in the Netherlands,
after a sharp decline the previous year. Imports in the UK
declined only 1% to 88,000 cu.m. (Chart 4).
Increasing concentration of trade in the hands of a small
number of large companies close to EU ports, and their
role to distribute tropical sawn timber throughout the EU,
mean it is becoming more difficult to relate import trends
with changes in consumption at national level in the EU.
Fall in EU imports driven mainly by supply-side issues
In practice, the recent decline in tropical imports into the
EU is better seen as a region-wide phenomenon driven
mainly by supply side trends. In 2017, a range of factors
conspired to result in extremely low tropical sawn
hardwood imports across the EU. These include:
On-going serious problems and delays with
shipping out of Douala Port in Cameroon.
Overstocking in the EU at the end of 2016
following arrival all at once of a large volume of
delayed shipments from Africa.
Diminishing commercial availability of
hardwood species of interest to European buyers.
The problem of delayed payment of VAT
by African governments, partly linked to low oil
prices, which is creating additional financial
challenges for operators in the region.
Good demand and willingness to pay higher
prices for tropical hardwood in other regions
including Asia, the Middle East, and North
Reduced focus on supply of sawn timber to
EU by many tropical suppliers, particularly
encouraged in Africa by strong demand for logs
from China, and in South East Asia by on-going
efforts to move into higher value products such as
Continued substitution of tropical
a range of modified temperate wood species and
alternative non-wood products.
Fashion changes, particularly the strong
towards the oak look in EU and the fact that there
is now very little demand for redwood finishes in
the EU interiors sector.
The on-going trend towards prefabrication
construction, is increasingly favouring tightly
specified engineered wood products which are
more readily accessible from domestic
manufacturers than from the tropics.
Intensifying enforcement of EUTR across
and the challenges and expense of legality due
diligence in some tropical countries.
Loss of share for tropical veneer in EU market during
Many of the same factors contributing to the downturn in
EU imports of tropical sawn timber are also now
impacting trade in tropical veneer. Following three years
of recovery, EU imports of hardwood veneer from the
tropics declined 6% to 310,000 cu.m in 2017.
The decline in EU imports of tropical veneer contrasts
with a significant rise in imports of veneer from temperate
countries which increased 17% to 262,000 cu.m last year.
Imports from Ukraine, the EU¡¯s largest external supplier
of temperate hardwood veneer, increased 9% to 89,000
cu.m in 2017, while imports from Russia, the second
largest supplier, increased 35% to 57,000 cu.m.
These increases in veneer imports from Eastern European
countries during 2017 were driven partly by very weak
exchange rates in the region, which has increased export
competitiveness, and partly by policy measures to limit log
exports and increase wood processing capacity in these
In total, the EU imported 572,000 cu.m of hardwood
veneer in 2017, 3% more than in 2016. The share of
tropical veneer in total EU veneer import volume fell from
60% in 2016 to 54% last year. (Chart 5).
EU imports of hardwood veneer from Gabon, the leading
tropical supplier, ended the year 9% down compared to
2016 at 152,000 cu.m. EU veneer imports also declined
from Côte d'Ivoire in 2017, by 12% to 69,000 cu.m.
Imports from Cameroon were stable at 32,000 cu.m in
2017, but increased 3% to 18,000 cu.m from Congo, 9% to
10,000 cu.m from Ghana, and 11% to 11,000 cu.m from
Equatorial Guinea (Chart 6).
The downturn in EU imports of tropical veneer during
2017 was concentrated in France, Italy and Germany.
Imports fell 17% to 113,000 cu.m in France, 7% to 69,000
cu.m in Italy, and 26% to 12,000 cu.m in Germany. These
falls were partially offset by rising imports in Spain (+4%
to 49,000 cu.m), Greece (+27% to 25,000 cu.m), and
Romania (+28% to 16,000 cu.m).