FDM ASIA: In recent years, American hardwood has been marketed to good effects in China. Now that we are almost in the second half of 2018, how is it performing so far?
Michael Snow (MS): First of all, the latest data we have got is by the end of April this year. Data showed that the number of American hardwood products exported to China increased by 17 percent over 2017.
Notably, our export volume of 2017 has reached a record high, yet now it has increased by 17 percent based on the historical high.
Compared with the same period last year, the growth rate of lumber is 17 percent, and for logs is 36 percent.
For Chinese manufacturers and importers, the cost-effectiveness of importing panels is much better than that of log import. Because the logs contain water and waste materials, they need to count the weight of this part in the cost of transportation, thus, Chinese importers are more inclined to import processed panels from us.
FDM ASIA: Are there any application cases that you can share with us?
MS: The Westin Xi’an where we are staying now is a good case. Its materials are all made of red oak.
There’s also another example, the museum in Suzhou was designed by a world-famous designer. He also used a lot of American hardwood.
MS & John Chan (JC): In addition, for the American hardwood outdoor application, we also introduce the case of Disney flagship store in Shanghai, whose external facade uses the American hardwood after heat treatment.
Although compared to some panels with new technology, it may be a little slower to enter into the Chinese market, however, the application case of our heat treatment panels has emerged in global markets.
We also have found that more and more consumers in the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, China and Vietnam have used it.
FDM ASIA: We know that American hardwood has been greatly promoted in Vietnam and the export value last year amounted to about US$220 million. How is the export of American hardwood timber to Vietnam this year?
Scott Seyler (SS) & MS: In Vietnam last year, the overall export of American hardwood panels exceeded US$190 million, and up to April this year, its growth rate was 13 percent compared with the same period last year.
At present, we mainly take the Vietnam market as a re-export market, that is, after exporting these panels to Vietnam, it would be processed into furniture or floor, and then exported them to the other markets of the world from Vietnam.
China has gone through the same experience fifteen years ago. But now China has become a consuming market, that is to say, the furniture, floor and wood products made with these American hardwood panels have been consumed in China's domestic market, and we think that Vietnam would follow the same example in the future.
FDM ASIA: As we know, maple is the more commonly-used species at the moment and black walnut is also very popular in the Chinese market. But compared to the former, the growth of black walnut has been relatively slow. Are there any measures, such as substituting maple with black walnut, to change this?
MS: First of all, we may promote different kinds of species at different times and do not intend to replace species with any other species. But from the point of view of forest management, the relationship between market demand and forest supply is better to be proportional.
And here we need to indicate that the species of black walnut only accounts for one percent of the total forestland in the US whose proportion is very small.
But the entire amount of forest in the US is very large, so on the basis of this large cardinal, one percent is not a very small value. We hope to balance the relationship between supply and demand with promoting various species, which priorities in different markets are also different.
And we also promote different species in different markets, for example, today Mr David Venables is mainly responsible for the European region. In China, red oak is favourable, so we do not need to do more promotion work.
But Europeans do not buy red oak, so in Europe we have to make great efforts to promote it. And for David, his job was trying to sell red oak, and he even walked around in T-shirts printed with red oak all day, just like a walking billboard.
Therefore, we will carry out the corresponding promotion plan according to the needs of different markets.
Scott Bowe (SB): For European markets, the biggest problem now is that we haven’t provided very diverse choices to the local consumers.
When they need wood in light colour, we provide white oak and we offer dark walnuts when they need species in dark colours, but it seems that other types of species have been forgotten by them.
So we hope to further popularise different species into the European market which can produce two main benefits: firstly as we have mentioned before, since there are different species in the forest, we hope the relationship between supply and demand will be positive, which can guarantee the sustainable development of forestland and species and protect their biodiversity.
Secondly, we can provide a wider choice for consumers, architects and interior designers to turn material resources to good account and help analysts to bring outstanding work to the public.
From the perspective of fashion design, we can see that there are many mainstream brands are still in Europe.
In the European fashion design industry, warm coloured material applications tend to be popular. More and more designers may prefer to use warm coloured material in the future, such as red oak and cherrywood might have more market potential to develop.
Cherrywood has been very welcomed in China, and we hope it can return to the European fashion field. Fashion design is nothing more than a cycle. Our job is to provide a complete, wide, diverse choice for it. Maybe we can't affect the trend of fashion, but we can affect it more or less on the time node of the cycle.
FDM ASIA: How long does it take to dry American white ash? What are the requirements for the thickness of ash?
SS: For the kiln of American white ash, only the European market will bring it on special request to us, and we will not consider its thickness for other markets.
We can export it to other markets as long as conduct drying according to the standard process. But the European market requires the ash be dried under temperature 72 deg C for 1,200 minutes. There is another option: If you want to export to the European market, you can turn the white ash into square-edge lumber, not a circular edge, because the wormhole can’t exist in it.
FDM ASIA: What factors have caused the huge demand for American hardwood in Southeast Asia and the Greater China market?
MS: There’s no doubt that China's economy has been growing very fast in the past fifteen year, thus people’s purchasing power has also increased, making them have more ability to choose some environmentally friendly, high quality products and home furnishing materials, and American hardwood just coincides with their appeal for high-quality materials.
In a sense, the popularity of American hardwood in the woodworking sector is like BMW and Rolls-Royce in the automotive industry. These products’ advantage is just in line with the growing demand of the Chinese people.
FDM ASIA: With increase home spending, what are other advantages of American hardwood on the field of manufacture, furnishing and design?
MS: In fact, not only the manufacturers in China, but also in all over the world, when they buy wood and panels in order to use them as raw materials, all of them want to figure out their yield of material and net rate of clear wood.
Besides they also wonder that whether purchasing this grade of species can be processed into the terminal products meeting the corresponding quality requirements. However, the American hardwood can meet this quality demand.
In addition, there’s a rule of grading panels in the US, which is based on scientific and mathematical quantitative to grade panels.
In this way, Chinese importers can clearly predict whether the grade of timber purchased fit his current demand, and whether yield of timber can meet the basic requirements, which can reduce waste in the whole process.
Furthermore, we AHEC has spent a lot of budget and energy educating the world's importers and producers for many years so far, in order to let them understand the scientific principles behind our panel grading rule, i.e. buying special high grade panels can’t ensure high quality of final products.
That is, higher grade doesn’t mean better quality. Actually it can only guarantee that the materials you purchased can meet your terminal purpose. For example, if a customer needs to make a strip of panel, floor, or lath, he will finally cut them into small area, and besides, high grade means that the area of clear-face cutting is larger and whose length is longer.
Thus, spending a lot of money buying high grade panel is not necessary. Therefore, we hope that importers and producers will be able to purchase suitable species with appropriate grades in accordance with their final purpose, which can maximise their cost effect.
And for realising timber’s sustainable application, we hope that all kinds of panels with different grades can be served with proper purpose.
In some market like Japan, they don’t like grain in the wood, and dislike the colour difference between different panels. They hope that each piece of panel looks the same and be standard, but it is not the best reason for choosing wood. Because when you decide to choose wood, you should accept the difference between them given by nature.
Otherwise, using plastic could be better, which is the most standard and unified.
You should embrace the natural features inside the wood and realise that it is the difference that makes wood particularly interesting material that can inspire designers to choose suitable material, which ensure that panels with different grades can be used in sustainable way.
SS: In fact, for furniture manufacturers, when importing timber, yield is a very important topic. This rate of American hardwood is well protected for three reasons: firstly, our drying process in kiln is relatively scientific.
We can ensure moisture content through kiln drying that meets the requirements, so that it can avoid panel degradation during the transport process or after using for a long time.
Secondly, we promise the quality of the panels during the production process. For example, we make the panels to be great square-edge lumber, and they can be used in a proper way.
Thirdly, we have stressed that panel grading system is quantitative with scientific calculation principle, so that as long as you can do math, you can have good forecast about the yield would be and know where the great cutting are.