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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.

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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.