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Forest product manufacturers struggle to recover while looking for opportunities in the green economy

Published: 29 November 2013

Information released today in the UNECE/FAO Forest Products Annual Market Review 2012-2013 show that the changes in forest product consumption in the UNECE region are strongly connected to the developments in the building sector.

Summary of apparent consumption of key forest products in the UNECE region
(percentage change 2011 to 2012)

Europe

North America

Commonwealth of Independent States

Total
UNECE region

Industrial roundwood

-1.0%

2.7%

-0.1%

0.7%

Sawnwood*

-2.9%

7.1%

3.0%

1.8%

Wood-based panels

-0.8%

1.6%

2.5%

0.5%

Paper and paperboard

-4.0%

-2.2%

-3.6%

-3.2%

Source: UNECE/FAO TIMBER database, 2013

Building permits in Europe fell by 57.3% between 2006 and 2013. The value of new residential construction in Europe is predicted to decrease through 2013, with a slight increase forecasted for 2014. While a significant short- or mid-term recovery is unlikely in Europe’s construction sector, the current focus on policies for reducing carbon emissions could lead to increased use of wood in construction. In other words, there’s hope within the wood products sector that wood will increase its share of raw materials used for construction because of its low carbon footprint, utility and natural beauty.

Although European markets continue to suffer from the prolonged economic uncertainty, Turkey has seen major growth in the production and consumption of most forest products. Turkey has become the fourth largest importer of wood chips in the world, increasing from zero in 2002 to the current figure of 1.5 million dry tonnes of wood chips. They are now the fourth largest consumer of sawn softwood and particle board in Europe. They produce and consume more medium density fibreboard (MDF) than any other country in Europe (in terms of global production, only China produces more MDF than Turkey).

In the Russian Federation, 826,800 new dwellings were built in 2012, and wood is being used more extensively for home construction. In 2002, just 2.2% of homes were classified as having wooden structures. By 2012, this figure had grown to 7.1%.

In Russia along with the other Commonwealth of Independent States, growth has been moderate. But reason for optimism can be seen in investments in new plants, stronger domestic consumption and the proximity of key export markets.

In the United States, housing permits were at a seasonally annualized adjusted rate of 974,000 - 20.8% more than in 2011. The Canadian housing market is on track for 189,930 starts in 2013. Wood is already the predominant raw material for housing in the US and Canada (over 90% of single family homes are wood-framed), but “green building” initiatives could increase its use in commercial buildings which have a lower percentage of wood construction.

North America has seen positive movements. This is due to the recovering housing sector, the improved economic situation in the United States and increased exports to Asia. However, in 2009 consumption fell the furthest in the North American subregion. Therefore, while there are strong signs of improvement, the 2012 consumption was between 5% and 16% lower for most forest products than it was in 2008.

Pulp and paper feels the sting of the digital age and “off-shoring”

The pulp and paper sector contracted in all parts of the UNECE region. In Europe, some of this was most probably due to the economic situation. However, much is likely to be a continuation of the trends seen last year, with paper being supplanted by the increased use of web-based news and advertisement, e-mail correspondence, electronic bills and the use of e-readers.

At the same time, South America is continuing to expand its chemical market pulp capacity and South-East Asia increased the number of paper and paperboard installations in order to serve its rapidly growing economies. In 2012, Brazil exported 8.5 million tonnes of pulp, representing 61.3% of their production and Chile exported 4.2 million tonnes of kraft pulp.

The ramifications of all of this are an unprecedented global shift in pulp and paper supply, which has Asia looking towards South America and within Asia to satisfy their appetite for paper. This trend can be seen in chemical market pulp exports to China, as supplying nations are increasingly relying on China as an outlet for their commodities because investment into papermaking equipment in that country far outpace levels seen anywhere else. According to the China Paper Association, China’s pulp consumption in 2012 reached 93.5 million tonnes, of which 42% came from imports, up from 39% in 2011.

In Europe and North America, the sector has been advancing with green technology such as wood-based biorefineries and biofuels, hoping to boost income by diversifying revenue streams, including energy generation from biomass and black liquor.

The EU and CIS expand wood energy consumption

The most recent data from the UNECE/FAO Joint Wood Energy Enquiry show that wood energy was the principal source of renewable energy, accounting for 38.4% of all renewables, in 28 UNECE member countries (UNECE/FAO, 2013). Wood energy markets in the UNECE region continued to grow in 2012. Whereas consumption in the industrial sector declined slightly, residential and power-sector demand expanded. The EU27 and the CIS are poised to see large growth in wood energy consumption, partly driven by renewable energy targets and improvements in the investment climate, respectively.

In North America, wood energy consumption has fallen against other renewables and is currently below the levels of the mid-1980s. This is being attributed to the higher growth rates of other renewable energy sources and the availability of inexpensive natural gas. In the US, total wood consumption in 2012 was 26% below the 1985 high of 2,835 PJ (284 million m3). Wood pellet and briquette production is growing exponentially to feed export markets in Europe, and to a lesser degree, Asia’s Pacific rim. Thus, while domestic consumption of wood energy is not currently growing, the production of pellets for export is seeing very large increases with wood pellet production estimated at 1.7 and 4.0 million tonnes in Canada and the US, respectively.  

In 2012, total imports of wood pellets into the EU27 from Canada, the Russian Federation, the US and the rest of the world reached 4.5 million tonnes.

The review is available at, http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/timber/publications/FPAMR2013.pdf

For further information, please contact:

Florian Steierer
UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Phone: +41 (0)22 917 1409
E-mail: info.ece-faoforests@unece.org
Website: http://www.unece.org/forests/


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