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FLEGT market news

Major UK funding backs Columbian sustainable forest use

A £64 million support package from the UK for Columbia is aimed at improving forest governance and increasing uptake of sustainable forest management and agriculture. The grant finance has been awarded under the UK’s International Climate Finance programme (ICF). It comes a year after the UK and Columbia concluded a ‘Partnership for Sustainable Growth’, which focuses on ‘supporting the fight against deforestation and environmental crime and creation of sustainable economic livelihoods’.

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UK TTF gets creative in FLEGT communication

The UK Timber Trade Federation (TTF) has launched a competition for designers, architects and craftspeople to create furniture, sculptures, interior design and other functional products using exclusively tropical timber from FLEGT VPA partner countries. The design contest, being run in association with the London Building Centre, is called Conversations about climate change and forms part of the TTF’s pan-European FLEGT communication drive. This aims to raise the market profile of the initiative and awareness of its wider impacts on the ground in supplier countries and is funded by the UK Department for International Development under its Forest Governance, Markets and Climate programme. 

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EU27+UK tropical wood imports from non-VPA countries: slowing from Brazil and China but India continues to make gains

EU27+UK imports of tropical timber products from countries not engaged in the VPA process were making strong gains during 2018 and the first half of 2019, but in the case of Brazil and China, there was a significant slowdown in trade in the second half of 2019 which continued into the first quarter of 2020.

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EU27+UK imports from VPA negotiating countries in Asia: sharp shift to wood furniture in EU import mix from Malaysia

Of VPA negotiating countries, Malaysia is by far the largest supplier of tropical timber products to the EU. EU imports from Malaysia which hit a low of US$543 million in the year ending April 2017, had recovered to US$608 million in the year ending February 2019, but fell back to US$567 million in the year ending February 2020.

Despite the lockdown, EU27+UK imports from Malaysia were surprisingly strong in March this year, rising for all the main product groups, including furniture, sawnwood, mouldings and plywood.  

Overall, imports of wood furniture from Malaysia strengthened in the 12 months to March 2020. Furniture imports from Malaysia mainly comprise rubberwood product for interior use at the lower end of the price spectrum, the UK being by far the largest market for these products in Europe. Significant gains were made last year in EU27+UK imports of wood bedroom furniture, wood dining-room furniture and wood non-upholstered seating.

eu imports from asia negotiating

Longer term, Malaysia has lost ground to both Cameroon and Brazil in the EU27+UK market for tropical sawn wood, and to China and Indonesia (and Russia) in the market for hardwood plywood. The decline in imports of these product groups from Malaysia in 2019 was attributed by some importers to reduced availability of PEFC certified product following the suspension of MTCS certification in Johor and Kedar states in May 2019 which led to the total certified area in Malaysia to fall by around 25%. 

This may have been a factor in the Netherlands and UK where there is a stronger preference for certified wood. However, rising EU imports from other tropical countries with even less access to certified wood, such as Cameroon and Brazil, implies that other factors were also important for the decline in imports from Malaysia.

EU27+UK imports of timber products from Thailand consist primarily of furniture, with smaller quantities of plywood, fibreboard, and charcoal. The main European destinations are the UK, Germany and France. After a decline in 2016 and the first half of 2017, total EU imports from Thailand were stable at an annual level of just over US$100 million between June 2017 and January 2020. However, imports showed signs of slowing in February and March even before the main effects of the COVID long-term became apparent.


EU27+UK imports from African VPA implementing countries: Cameroon slides while RoC makes gains

EU27+UK wood imports from Cameroon have been very volatile in recent years (see Chart). 12-month rolling total imports from Cameroon, which increased sharply to US$338 million in December 2016, fell to a low of US$257 million in March 2018. In the following months, imports recovered to US$309 million in the year ending June 2019 before sliding to US$291 in the year ending March 2020.

eu imports from africa implementing

Most EU27+UK trade with Cameroon comprises sawnwood destined for Belgium. The volatility is due to supply side problems, notably shipment delays caused by bureaucratic red tape and poor infra-structure after many years with little or no investment at Douala, the country’s only major port.

EU27+UK imports from the Republic of Congo (RoC), comprising sawnwood, logs and veneers, were rising consistently throughout 2018 and 2019. Rolling 12-month imports increased from US$78 million in January 2018 to a peak of US$105 million in November 2019 before easing back to US$102 million in March 2020. In the last two years there has been particularly strong growth in Belgian imports of logs and sawnwood and French imports of veneers from the RoC.

EU27+UK  imports from Ghana, mostly of sawnwood and veneer, remain low but have been rising gradually in the last three years. The 12-month rolling total increased from US$32 million in March 2018 to US$33 million in March 2019, and to US$34 million in March this year. Although direct imports from Ghana into Germany and France have declined, this has been offset by rising imports into Belgium and the UK. Italian imports of Ghanaian sawnwood and veneer have been stable.

EU27+UK imports from Central African Republic (CAR), recovered from an annualised low of US$8 million in November 2017 to US$13 million in October 2018, where there remained level for the next three quarters. However, between the middle of 2019 and March 2020, annualised imports eased back again to US$9 million. EU27+UK imports of from CAR now consist almost exclusively of logs, mainly for France, Portugal and Belgium. Imports of sawnwood, previously destined mainly for Belgium, have fallen to negligible levels.

EU27+UK imports from Liberia, all of which comprises logs, are very limited, in recent years averaging around 5,000 tonnes with value less than US$3 million per year. However, in 2019 there was an uptick, with import quantity rising 29% to 7,500 tonnes with value closer to US$4 million.

In terms of the mix of products from VPA implementing countries in Africa, EU27+UK imports of logs and sawnwood were reasonably robust in 2019, but there was a downturn in imports of veneer. In 2019, imports of tropical veneer declined from Cameroon (-5% to 18,200 tonnes), Republic of Congo (-11% to 10,000 tonnes), and Ghana (-6% to 4,700 tonnes).

The downturn in African veneer imports was particularly dramatic in the second half of 2019 - partly allied to weakness in the European plywood and door manufacturing sectors during this period. There are also signs that tropical wood veneer is coming under pressure from temperate wood substitutes and a wide range of artificial surface materials.


COVID signal missing in EU27+UK import data for Q1 2020

Having reached the highest level in more than a decade in October 2019, EU trade in tropical wood and wood furniture products slowed in the last two months of the year, a trend which accelerated in January and February this year. Contrary to expectations, with the large western European countries implementing COVID-19 lockdown measures during the month, EU imports of tropical wood products picked up again in March.

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