Business Trends Abroad

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Gabon – Heavy rain continued to impact harvesting and production in Cameroon and the Central African Republic at the time of this writing. In Gabon, mill output has fallen as the government enforces regulations, particularly labor laws.

The government in Gabon is taking a tough stance on labor issues given the recent industrial action by workers in special zones. There is an increased emphasis on hiring Gabonese workers. However, there is a shortage of skilled mechanics, drivers, sawmill operators and heavy equipment drivers.

The government has responded by relaxing the transition period of 2-4 months during which time companies are required to reduce their expatriate workforce in favor of hiring Gabonese nationals.

There are reports of unresolved worker overtime pay discrepancies as some companies in the special economic zones are yet to adhere to the government regulations. Labor unrest has reportedly led several Indian and Chinese peeler mills to reduce their workforce sparking concerns about unemployment and potential production cuts.

Some Indian factories have already announced their intentions to close due to the current uncertainties and difficult operating conditions in the special economic zones where fees to zone management have been rising. The forestry sector in Gabon appears to be undergoing a significant transformation toward legal compliance with enforcement of anti-corruption measures.

The new Minister of Forestry in Gabon is actively enforcing forestry laws, ensuring proper documentation and seizing abandoned logs over six months old.

Vietnam – The most recent data indicates that Vietnam’s wood and wood products (W&WP) exported to the U.S. in September were recorded at $627 million, up 9.3 percent compared to the same time a year ago.

Over the past few months W&WP exports to the U.S. have been improving.

The rate decline in W&WP exports to the U.S. in the first nine months of 2023 has slowed to $5.2 billion, down 24 percent over the same period last year.

Vietnam’s Ash imports in September 2023 were 80,400 cubic meters, worth $19.7 million, and up 36 percent in volume and 35 percent in value from August 2023.

Over the first nine months of 2023 Ash imports reached 429,000 cubic meters, worth $109.6 million, up 19 percent in volume and 16 percent in value over the same period last year.

In September 2023, Vietnam’s exports of living and dining room furniture was valued at $215 million, up two percent compared to 2022. That marked the fifth consecutive month in which exports increased.

In September 2023, Vietnam’s exports of kitchen furniture amounted to $102 million, up 15 percent compared to September 2022. In the first nine months of 2023 exports of kitchen furniture were worth $812.5 million, down 21 percent over the same period in 2022.

Vietnam’s Pine imports as recently as September were 92,400 cubic meters, worth $20.5 million, 36 percent in volume and 35 percent in value compared to August 2023. Compared to September 2022, imports increased by 25 percent in volume and 12 percent in value.

In the first nine months of 2023, Pine wood imports reached 514,100 cubic meters, worth $113.2 million, down 36 in volume and 49 percent in value over the same period in 2022.

Tropical hardwoods imported into Vietnam from Africa are targeted entirely at the domestic consumers.

This year, the freezing of the real estate market, added with the economic slowdown, has been hampering the consumption of African hardwood. The imports of log/sawnwoods from Africa, therefore, have reduced substantially. This trend is forecasted to prevail in the next coming quarters.

With the steady bilateral relations between Vietnam and the U.S. due to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for Peace Cooperation and Sustainable Development, Vietnam’s exports to the U.S. are expected to expand. Vietnamese enterprises, including wood product manufacturers are expected to benefit.

In recent years, according to ITTO/FORDAQ, Vietnam has emerged as the top W&WP supplier for the U.S. market and exports to the U.S. often contribute 50-to-55 percent of the total Vietnam W&WP export earnings. In the first eight months of this year, due to the declining demand, Vietnam’s W&WP exports to the U.S. dropped significantly.

In particular, the value of wooden furniture destined for the U.S. stood at $3.9 billion, year-on-year down by 29 percent; wood-based panels and flooring $371.8 million, down 36 percent and wooden doors $16.8 million, down 32 percent.

Ghana – Ghana is set to become the first African country and second in the world to begin issuing licenses for timber exports under the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) scheme.

This follows the successful assessment of timber marking and tracking processes in the Bobiri Forest Reserve in the Ashanti region by a European Union and Ghana Forestry Commission team.

The FLEGT scheme forms part of measures the Forestry Commission has instituted in compliance with tree harvesting regulations, including traceability at origin in line with the European Union’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement was signed between both countries in November 2019.

In 2022, the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR), Samuel A. Jinapor, hosted the European Union Ambassador to Ghana, HE Ichard Razaaly.

The MLNR Minister discussed key actions undertaken by government in preparation for the issuance of FLEGT licenses. He also acknowledged the importance of Ghana government collaborating with EU to realize the full benefits of the timber industry.

Italy – According to published reports, it is evident that the decreases in demand for furniture has corresponded to a decline in wood production as well. Wood revenues have increased significantly in the past two years due to rising raw material and energy costs. Therefore, the decrease in revenue can partly be attributed to the positive recovery in commodity prices.

“If the significant decline in wood revenue can be partially attributed to the slowing growth of raw materials and energy cost, in contrast to 2022 compared to 2021, the data on furniture production is different, primarily indicating a slowdown in demand and the export of our products, even overseas,” said Claudio Feltrin, president of FederlegnoArredo. “Clearly, these two factors also impact the wood sector, which is beginning to feel the effects of reduced production in the 2022 demand, a year with above average performance, has been meant.”

The wood macrosystem is the most significant contributor to the overall decline, according to FederlegnoArredo Study Center, contracting by -12.6 percent (with national sales down by -14 percent and exports down by -8.3 percent), despite widely varying trends among different segments, from panels experiencing significant contraction to wooden coverings, structures, and buildings showing growth.

Looking ahead to the end of 2023, the assessment predicts a negative year-end for the wood sector at -3.3 percent, with exports at -2.6 percent and the domestic market at -3.8 percent.

Regarding the furniture macrosystem, forecasts suggest a slightly positive overall trend (+0.2 percent) thanks to stronger domestic market performance (+1.3 percent) compared to exports (-0.7). Conversely, the wood macrosystem is expected to experience a negative trend (-8.5 percent overall) with little difference between the domestic market (-8.6 percent) and exports (-8.3 percent).

United Kingdom – The import value of tropical wood and wooden furniture into the UK in the first eight months of this year was $655 million, or 38 percent less than the same period last year. In quantity terms, the UK imported 273,400 tons of tropical wood and wooden furniture in the January to August period, according to most recent data, which is 9 percent less than the same period last year.

This low figure in tonnage terms is the lowest level of UK tropical wood products imports for the first eight months of the year since at least the early 1990s.

It is 4 percent below the previous record low, which came in the first eight months of 2013 at the end of one of the longest periods of economic stagnation on record in the UK.

It is also 5 percent less than recorded in the first eight months of 2020 when the country was at a complete standstill at the start of the COVID pandemic.

Coming as it does after two historically good years for the UK trade in 2021 and 2022 during the immediate post-COVID recovery, this is a case of boom and bust.

The monthly data shows that the total tonnage of UK imports of tropical wood and wooden furniture fell to an extreme low of only 22,000 tons in December 2022 before rising to 35,000 tons in February 2023.

Since then, imports have barely shifted from this level, which is about 20 percent below the long-term average for the time of year.

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By Miller Wood Trade Publications

The premier online information source for the forest products industry since 1927.

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By Miller Wood Trade Publications

The premier online information source for the forest products industry since 1927.

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