Tropical Timber Market Report I

Is automation the answer to labour shortage in Malaysia? How big is the custom made furniture market in China? What effects does improving Euro zone economies have on timber and wood product imports? ITTO tells us the latest happenings in the global tropical timber market. 




Labour shortage—automation not the answer says Furniture Federation

The acute shortage of labour in the furniture manufacturing sector has been raised once more.

Koh Chon Chai, President of the Federation of Johor Furniture Manufacturers and Traders Association, has said many companies in Muar, a centre of furniture manufacturing in Malaysia, had been forced to cease operation because they could not attract enough workers.

Mr. Koh said companies in furniture sector in Malaysia are short of around 10,000 workers and this is putting at risk the 800 factories that are active in the furniture export market which is worth almost RM10 billion a year. 


The government has been calling on the industry to adopt a greater level of automation, but this is not the answer said Mr. Koh.


ASEAN aims for SFM and conservation of natural resources

The Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) participated in an exhibition held in conjunction with the 20th ASEAN Senior Officials on Forestry (ASOF) Meeting in Putrajaya.

The ASOF Meeting is an annual event which gathers senior forestry officials from ASEAN Member States (AMS) to formulate and implement regional cooperation projects and activities related to forestry, conservation and timber trade.

The Meeting was attended by over 80 senior officials from all AMS (except Singapore). The exhibition is in support of ASOF’s sustainable forest management and conservation of natural resources aims in the region.

Through a Working Group on Pan ASEAN Timber Certification Initiative established under the ASO Fplatform, MTCC has been sharing its experiences and expertise in operationalising the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) with other AMS.


Currently, only Malaysia and Indonesia have an operational national timber certification scheme in ASEAN. The implementation of a national timber certification scheme is in line with the Strategic Plan of Action for ASEAN Co-operation in Forestry (2016-2025) where all AMS are required to implement the ASEAN Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Management of Tropical Forests.


Sabah heli-logging issue clarified

The Sabah Forestry Department has cleared the confusion over the helicopter logging undertaken by Sabah Foundation (SF) in the Maliau Basin.

Speaking to the press, Datuk Sam Mannan, the Chief Conservator of Forests in Sabah said the Maliau Basin Forest Reserve is excluded from helicopter logging activities. He clarified that harvesting of timber is only being done in commercial forest reserves in Sabah.

Under the licence agreement SF and Benta Wawasan, which is also part of SF, are the two sole licensees in Sabah allowed to harvest of timber on slopes over 25degrees provided thatonly aerial logging systems are employed.

Heli-logging was first tested near Tawau in 2004 and was successful but was stopped a few years later as large areas of forests were re-classified as totally protected areas. The cost of helicopter logging is extremely high. The hourlycost when the trial was undertaken in 2004 was around

US$9,000/hour but the volume extracted per day could be as much as 600 cubic metres.



Regulations said to be a drag on export potential

Zanny Zapata Chandra, Secretary of the Indonesian Furniture and Handicraft Association (HIMKI) DPD Bali, has raised concerns over the decline in exports of handicrafts and furniture from Balinese manufacturers.

Mr. Chandra said data from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that exports of processed wood products in June 2017 declined over 25 percent compared to June 2016.

It appears that there has been a steady decline in exports this year and that several factors are responsible, most notably the problem of securing verified legal raw materials and secondly the high cost of SVLK certification especially for SMEs.

Mr. Chandra is leading a campaign by the HIMKI to seek revision of the regulations as pertaining to SME SVLK certification and in making it easier for companies to secure raw materials.


Direct exports of merbau from West Papua to China

Millers in West Papua Province have made the first direct shipment of merbau to Shanghai through Makassar Port also known as the Port of Soekarno-Hatta.

Data from Indonesia shows this port has highest passenger traffic among Indonesian ports and the largest cargo trafficin Suluwesi. The Indonesian government ranked this portas a primary port along with the TanjungPriok in Jakarta,Tanjung Perak in Surabaya and Belawn in Medan.

The first shipment of merbau was made by CV Sorong Timber Irian and the Governor, Dominggus Mandacan was at the port to see the departure of this first shipment when he commented that direct shipping routes to China have the potential to impact the economy of the provinces.


Domestic home building plan on track

For 2017 the Indonesian government has targeted the building of 700,000 houses for low-income families and 300,000 houses for higher income earners. 

This plan is part of the ‘one million houses programme’ launched by Indonesian President.

Information from the Ministry of Public Works and Housing shows that by the first half of this year almost 500,000 homes had been built, some 50 percent of the target. More than half of these houses were built utilising central government's funds.

The performance of the programme this year is better than last year and this is attributed to the simplified process to establish residential property projects for low-income families. For example it has been made easier to obtain abuilding permit and the building worthiness certificate.



MTE assesses its harvesting and transport capacity

The Minister of Resources and Environmental Conservation, Win Ohn, has informed the staff of the Forestry Department and the Myanma Timber Enterprise(MTE) that, to ensure transparency, third party civil society organisations, national government institutions and parliamentarians must be allowed to monitor the process of hiring logging/harvesting service providers.

This was in response to concerns raised over recent move by MTE to hire service providers due to the limitedcapacity of MTE. After the heated debate on the issue of contracting the private sector the MTE assessed anddetailed its own capacity in various areas as follows:

Feller (felling workers) 0 percent

Elephants for extraction 65 percent

Road building vehicles 72 percent

Loading vehicle 67 percent

Logging trucks 34 percent


The plan is that the shortfall will be made up through contracts with the private sector.

The MTE is a state-owned enterprise responsible for the harvesting of logs in Myanmar. Under the 1992 Forestry Law, teak or any other hardwoods extracted by the MTEare deemed legal.

Domestic payments to be made in Kyat says Central Bank – an issue for MTE tender sales

It has become common practice in Myanmar to use currencies other than the Kyat for local purchases. This has led to a depreciation of the kyat and exchange ratevolatility.

In moves to reduce volatility and support the domestic currency the Vice Governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM), U Bo BoNge, has said action will be taken against those who do not follow the recent regulation requiring domestic payments to be made in local currency.

The CBM has instructed that foreign exchange offices be permitted to exchange Thai baht for Kyats. The Baht has been the most common foreign currency used for domestic payments.

Analysts have pointed out that MTE tenders are in US dollars which runs counter to the new requirements and that this issue needs to be resolved. MTE is regarded as an important state-owned organisation and has been earning hard currency for the country for around five decades.



Plan to become more self-sufficient in timber

The Indian Prime Minister is pursuing an expansion of domestic industrial wood production with the aim of raising the income of farmers and of making the country less dependent on wood imports. 

To achieve this, he plans to coordinate the efforts of all State Forest Departments and private sector organisations. The plan calls for the cultivation of industrial wood lots and plantations along farm boundaries as well as within the farm.

In addition to expanded farm forests the Prime Minister wants to see large scale plantations on rural non-agricultural land for example alongside roads, along railway lines and along canal banks.

The main purpose of this plan is to allow India to be more self-sufficient in wood products which will ease the import burden which today runs into billions of dollars. It is estimated that approximately five million hectares of lands is available for this project.

Along with encouraging planting, the government will remove current regulations that restrict felling, transport and sale of trees grown on private land.

This issue was discussed with representatives of states in anational consultation held last month. Though some states expressed reservations, citing limits on available land, most agreed to address changes to regulations and come up with plans to encourage planting.


GST revision

Demand for imported logs remains steady and importers are benefiting from the strong Rupee.

Pressure for a revision of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on wood and wood products continues. At the September meeting of the GST Council in Hyderabad, this is on the agenda and the timber industry is hopeful of a successful conclusion of this issue.



Housing starts affected by holidays

The August ‘Bon’ holiday in Japan is on a par with the New Year’s holiday in terms of importance and family preparations. While not an official holiday, almost all companies close for 4-5 days and families head out of thecities back to their hometowns.

With construction companies losing 4-5 days of work time, it is not surprising that housing starts in August dipped. However, August 2017 starts were some two percent below levels in August 2016 and compared to July starts were down five percent.


Japan’s wooden furniture imports

Bedroom furniture dominates Japan’s wooden furniture imports followed by kitchen furniture and office furniture.

While wooden office furniture imports in the first half of 2017 were higher than in the two previous years office thiswas not the case for either kitchen or bedroom furniture where the value of imports in 2017 was down on the two preceding years.


Office furniture imports

In June, three shippers, China, Taiwan and Portugal accounted for almost 79 percent of Japan’s wooden office furniture imports.

China is the largest supplier at 69 percent of all June 2017 imports of the product followed by Taiwan (5 percent) and Portugal (4.5 percent). Shippers in Thailand accounted for around 4.5 percent of June 2017 wooden office furniture importsby Japan.

Year-on-year, June 2017 imports of wooden office furniture were 50 percent higher than in June 2016 when office furniture imports fell dramatically. Month-on-month June 2017 wooden office furniture were down 20 percent.


Kitchen furniture imports 

Year-on-year, Japan’s imports of wooden kitchen furniture fell slightly (-4 percent), but compared to the value of May imports, there was a modest rise in June.

The top three shippers of kitchen furniture to Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and China continue to account for almost all (86 percent in June 2017) of Japan’s wooden kitchen furniture imports.

In June, imports from Vietnam rose nine percent, imports from the Philippines jumped 16 percent while imports from China fell over 30 percent.

The main EU shippers of wooden kitchen furniture to Japan are Germany and Italy but shipments are small compared to those from Asian suppliers.


Bedroom furniture imports 

The volatility in the value of Japan’s imports of wooden bedroom furniture reported in previous reports continued into June 2017. After appearing to recover in May the value of June 2017 imports dipped again dropping nine percent.

Year-on-year, June 2017 imports of wooden bedroom furniture dropped nine percent. China was the main supplier in June, continuing its dominance of bedroom furniture imports into Japan, but June shipments from China were flat.

On the other hand, shipments from the other main suppliers, Vietnam and Malaysia, were moving in opposite directions. June shipments from Vietnam dropped 20 percent while shipments from Malaysia rose 11 percent.

The top three suppliers of wooden bedroom furniture to Japan in June were China (62 percent of all arrivals), Vietnam 25 percent of arrivals and Malaysia a modest three percent of arrivals.

For the first time this year, the value of shipments from Mexico were high enough to enter the top shippers.



New environmental protection regulations

The State Council has amended regulations on environmental protection and management of construction projects and the changes will become effective 1 October 2017.

One of important changes is that fees will no longer becharged for the examination and approval of environmental impact reports, environmental impact reports forms and environmental impact registration forms for construction projects.

In addition, government departments will be required to notify the construction enterprises, in writing, their assessments and decisions within 10 days of the submission of environmental impact reports from enterprises.


Soon - RMB100 billion custom made furniture market

China’s custom-made furniture market segment has been growing in recent years and this segment accounts for around 20 percent of the total domestic furniture market value.

In 2016, the market for custom made furniture was worth RMB70 billion and it is forecast that this will expand to RMB90 billion in 2017 and that the growth in this market segment will be around 4 percent annually over the next 4-5 years rising to RMB 100 billion by 2020.

Cabinets and wardrobes currently dominate the demand for custom made furniture and the market penetration of this type of furniture is 60 percent for cabinets and 30 percent forward robes.


Monitoring of ‘eco board’ in Shanghai

‘Eco board’ has established itself in the home decoration and indoor home furnishing market in recent years. 

Eco board is blockboard or plywood laminated with impregnated paper on one face and is marketed as an‘ecological and environmentally friendly wood panel’. Some of these products are marked E0 for formaldehyde mission level.

Recently, the Shanghai Municipal Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau conducted formaldehyde emission teston some ‘Eco board’ to determine if they conform to thenational mandatory standard GB 18580-2001.

Wood-based panels directly used indoor must comply with the E1 formaldehyde emission limit requirements innational mandatory standard GB 18580-2001.

There is no Standard for E0 level formaldehyde emission of wood-based panel in the national standard so E0 level ‘Eco board’ has no relevant basis.

However, some flooring products are classified E0 for formaldehyde emissions. E0 emission levels must be lessthan 0.5 mg/L (desiccator test method).

The Shanghai Municipal Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau announced the results of risk monitoring to ‘Eco board’ makers and suggested they take the following measures.

•Cease production and sales of wood-based panel products for which emission levels for formaldehyde are more than 1.5 mg/L.

•Improve the standards and quality control system of enterprises, strengthen the quality control of raw materials, use formaldehyde free adhesive or low formaldehyde emission adhesive, improve production technology of decorative veneer, as well as reduce the formaldehyde emission.

•Regularly inspect raw materials and products, supervise the quality of the product to ensure the quality and safety of products.

•Mark the range of the product's formaldehyde emission on product packaging and do not use any promotional language that could lead to consumers misunderstanding the risks involved.


Production and exports of Guangdong furniture

According to Guangdong Furniture Association there are1,170 furniture enterprises each having annual sales value of RMB5 million in Guangdong Province.

The total income of furniture enterprises in the province was RMB100.5 billion in the first half of 2017, a year-on-year increase of 15 percent.

Of the total, wooden furniture dominates production. In the first half of 2017, the income of wooden furniture enterprises was RMB56.2 billion, a year-on-year increase of 16 percent, accounting for 56 percent of the total.

The US is still the main market for wooden furniture from Guangdong and in 2016 exports to the US wereworth RMB40.3 billion, a year-on-year increase of 1.5 percent, making up 31 percent of the provincial total.

Guangdong furniture enterprises have been diversifying their international markets to include the Philippines,Indonesia, Thailand, Russia and new markets such as Iraq,Kuwait, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

The enterprises have also been diversifying their product range and quality in efforts to expand market share.Through branding they hope to improve competitiveness in international markets and aim to explore sales offurniture with domestic cultural characteristics, new Chinese style furniture, fashion and simple furniture emphasising functionality.


A first - Japanese cedar through Jingjiang Port

According to the Jingjiang Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, around 3,000 cubic metres of Japanesecedar logs were imported through Jingjiang Port recently making the first time for such arrivals.

Jingjiang has become China’s third largest port in terms of log import volumes. Log imports in 2016 exceeded three million cubic metres. In 2009 log imports through the porttotalled just 700,000 cubic metres. So far this year, log imports through the port have exceeded 2.2 million cubic metres and are set to reach 3.5 million cubic metre by year-end.


Rest of the World


Slowing pace of EU tropical timber imports during first half

The slowdown in EU imports of tropical timber products registered in the first quarter of 2017 continued into the second quarter. 

Twelve monthly rolling average imports, which peaked at just below €196 million in June 2016,fell to €183 in June 2017. 

Most of the rise and subsequent slowdown in EU tropical imports was driven by sawn wood.

The decline in EU tropical wood imports this year is, insome ways, even more troubling than other larger down turns which have regularly afflicted the European trade in the last decade. 

The downward trend runs contrary to broader economic conditions across the continent which, while hardly buoyant, are more robust than at any previous time in the last five years.

The downturn comes at a time when EU tropical woodimports have barely recovered from the all-time low of2013 and affects nearly all products and EU markets.


Only plywood and veneer imports rise in first quarter

In the first half of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, total EU imports of tropical timber products declined 8 percent to 1.12 million metric tonnes (MT).

There was an 18 percent decline in EU imports of tropical sawnto 349,000 MT, a 13 percent decline in imports of tropical charcoal to 199,000 MT, a 33 percent decline in imports oftropical logs to 54,000 MT, and an 11 percent decline in imports of tropical flooring to 19,000 MT.

These losses were only partly offset by a 31 percent rise in imports of tropical plywood to 171,000 MT and a three percent rise in imports of tropical veneer to 78,000 MT.

The EU imported 168,000 MT of tropical timber products from Indonesia in the first six months of 2017, exactly equivalent to the same period in 2016. This is much less than hoped since Indonesia became the first country to issue FLEGT licenses in November 2016. 

However, Indonesia has performed better than nearly all other tropical timber supplying countries in the EU market this year.

EU imports declined from all other major tropical supplying countries in the first half 2017, with the lone exception of Brazil. Imports from Brazil were 95,000 MTduring the period, a slight (two percent) increase compared to the first half of 2016.

EU imports of tropical products (nearly all plywood) also increased 60 percent from China to 56,000 MT in the first halfof 2017.

In contrast, direct EU imports of tropical products from Cameroon declined 20 percent to 145,000 MT, Malaysia declined four percent to 128,000 MT, Gabon declined eight percent to102,000 MT, Nigeria declined 27 percent to 75,000 MT (mainly charcoal), Congo declined 24 percent to 40,000 MT, Côte d'Ivoire declined 27 percent to 32,000 MT and DRC declined 43 percent to 19,000 MT.

After rising strongly in 2016, imports of tropical timber products in Belgium declined 21 percent to 212,000 MT in the first half of 2017. Imports in France, Germany and Italy,which were sliding in 2016, declined further in the first half of 2017.

Imports fell 16 percent to 146,000 MT in France, five percent to 122,000 MT in Germany and 16 percent to 95,000 MT in Italy. After showing signs of recovery last year, imports in the Netherlands weakened in the first half of 2017, falling eight percent to 131,000 MT.


Improving Euro zone economies not lifting tropical imports

The decline in tropical wood imports into Eurozone countries is surprising given evidence of improving economic conditions in the region. 

Growth in the Eurozone picked up to its fastest pace since 2011 in the secondquarter of this year, with GDP in the past 12 months rising by 2.2 percent.

In the three months to June, the Eurozone economy grew by 0.6 percent, matching the same healthy number from the firstquarter of the year. 

German GDP grew by 0.6 percent in the quarter, Spain’s by 0.9 percent, France’s by 0.5 percent and the Netherlands by an unexpectedly strong 1.5 percent.

This positive trend has contributed to a sharp increase in the euro-dollar rate, from 1.05 in early January 2017 tonearly 1.20 by the end of August. It is possible that this risein rates is acting temporarily to discourage imports. EU buyers are often unwilling to build stock at a time wheneuro import prices are falling and they anticipate further price decreases in the future.

It is significant that the UK is the only major EU market where tropical wood imports held up well in the first halfof 2017. UK imports increased 21 percent to 90,000 MT duringthe period.

Again, this seems to conflict with underlying economic trends. The UK grew by 0.3 percent in the second quarter of 2017, a significantly slower rate of increase than the major Eurozone economies. Much of this growth was driven by the service sector. Industrial output shrank by 0.4 percent and construction contracted by 0.9 percent during the same period as uncertainty has mounted since the Brexit vote.

This uncertainty is also reflected in exchange rates. The British pound has weakened sharply against the euro and stayed quite flat against the dollar this year. In contrast to Eurozone importers, those in the UK had an incentive to build stock in the first half of 2017 in expectation of afurther weakening in the exchange rate and rising importprices later in the year.

If the divergent trend in UK and Eurozone imports oftropical timber in the first half of 2017 is driven mainly by short-term changes in exchange rates, then a reversal maybe expected in the second half of the year - UK imports are likely to slow and Eurozone imports to rebound again.

However, if the downward trend in the EU tropical timber trade continues, even as economic activity recovers in the Eurozone, then it will be necessary to look to more fundamental causes.

It is possible, for example, that the combined effect of increased EUTR enforcement, limited availability of independently certified or legally verified tropical timber,the difficulty of demonstrating negligible legality risk in the absence of such certification, the existence of large alternative markets where there is still little demand for such assurances, and the further development of wood andnon-wood substitutes, will be a long-term and ever deepening slump in the EU market for tropical timber products.


North America

Plywood imports fall across the board in June

Hardwood plywood imports fell by almost one third inJune to 209,842 cubic metres, but year-to-date imports were 22 percent higher than in June 2016. The value of plywood imported in June declined 15 percent month-over-month to US$139 million.

The largest drop was in imports from China. China’s plywood shipments to the US fell by almost half to 84,913 cubic metres. in June. The value of Chinese plywood imports was down one third from May.

The US introduced preliminary anti-dumping duties on Chinese hardwood plywood in June. Cash deposits based on the preliminary duties of 57.36 percent to 114.72 percent are now required for hardwood plywood from China. Only Linyi Chengen Import and Export was assessed at a rate of zero.

Hardwood plywood imports from most other countries also declined in June, a sign that the new anti-dumping duties are not the only reason for the overall decrease in US plywood imports.

Malaysia was an exception and almost doubled the value of shipments to the US market in June. The US imported 10,323 cubic metres of hardwood plywood from Malaysia in June almost doubled compared to June 2016.


Veneer imports up from Côte d’Ivoire and India

Tropical veneer imports grew in June to US$2.6 million, but the year-to-date value of imports is only half of what the US imported in June 2016.

Italy was again the largest source of tropical veneer in June, but veneer imports from Côte d’Ivoire increased 56 percent in June to US$465,475. Imports from India were alsoup at US$307,871. Veneer imports from China, Ghana and Cameroon declined in June.

Brazil loses market share to China in hardwood mouldings market

The US imported US$15.0 million worth of hardwood moulding in June, down 15 percent from May. Year-to-date imports were slightly higher (+1 percent) than in June 2016.

Imports from most countries declined in June with the large drop in imports from Brazil. Brazil’s shipments fell one third to US$2.4 million. Imports from Malaysia fell tojust over US$0.5 million in June.

Imports from China accounted for over 40 percent of total hardwood moulding imports in June. Chinese moulding imports were worth US$6.2 million, up 27 percent year-to-date from June last year.


Hardwood flooring imports significantly up from 2016

Hardwood flooring and assembled flooring panel imports increased in June to US$5.4 million and US$13.3 million, respectively. Year-to-date hardwood floor imports grew 23 percent compared to the same time last year.

Year-to-date imports of assembled flooring panels (engineered wood flooring) was only slightly higher thanin June 2016.

Hardwood flooring imports from Malaysia more than doubled from May to US$413,458, but year-to-date imports are still less than half compared to June last year.

Indonesian shipments increased to US$766,634 in June, but the largest month-over-month growth was in imports from China. Hardwood flooring from China was worth US$1.9 million in June.

In assembled flooring panels, both China and Indonesia exported less to the US than in May. Canada was the largest import source of assembled flooring in June, but inyear-to-date imports China is still slightly ahead of



Assembled flooring imports from Thailand increased significantly in June (US$692,010).

China expands dominance of wooden furniture imports

Wooden furniture imports declined slightly in June to US$1.61 billion, but year-to-date imports remain well above June 2016 levels (+10 percent). Year-to-date imports from all major supplier countries were up in the first half of 2017, compared to the same time in 2016.

Furniture imports from China, Mexico and Europe grew in June, while imports from Vietnam, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia and India were down from the previous month.

China increased its share in US wooden furniture imports in June accounting for over 50 percent of imports of the top seven shippers.

Imports from Europe were worth US$143 million in June, up 6 percent from May. More recently the euro-dollar exchangerate has become less favourable to European exporters,which is likely to dampen the growth in European furniture exports to the US.

Non-upholstered seating furniture and office furniture imports dropped the most in June (14 percent and 13 percent, respectively). Kitchen furniture imports increased by three percent in June while imports of upholstered seating were unchanged from May.


Higher US furniture orders despite weak retail

The latest survey data on US residential furniture manufacturers and distributors was surprisingly positive,despite lower retail sales reported by the US CensusBureau.

New furniture orders increased eight percent in May from the same time last year, according to the Smith Leonhard industrysurvey of residential furniture manufacturers anddistributors. 

New orders were seven percent higher than in April. Over half (58 percent) of all survey participants reported order gains, up from 47 percent in April.

Furniture shipments increased seven percent from May 2016 and 12 percent from April this year. Inventory levels at distributors and manufacturers were slightly up from April butconsistent with business conditions.

Retail sales at furniture stores were declined 1.9 percent in June from the previous month. June sales were unchanged from June 2016, according to the US Census Bureau.

Furniture retail appears a bit weak when considering the high consumer confidence in the economy, lowunemployment and an overall strong housing market.

Many other retail sectors grew even less than furniture retail. Total US retail and food services decreased 2.7 percent in June from the previous month.



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