The obligation placed on importers by the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) to gather data to demonstrate a negligible risk of illegal harvest is acting as an extra drag on EU trade in tropical timber.
Reports suggest regulatory actions are becoming more frequent and vigorous, particularly in Belgium in recent weeks. This is more significant given the important role Belgian importers play in distributing tropical hardwood products to other parts of the continent.
There appears to be a general trend in the EU for many companies that formerly imported direct from the tropics to avoid the need to implement EUTR due diligence systems by procuring through other EU companies.
This is concentrating trade in the hands of a few of the larger EU importers who, in turn, are limiting their purchases to a smaller number of tropical suppliers capable of providing the legality assurances required by EUTR.
Overall, opportunities for tropical exporters to enter the EU market are therefore becoming more restricted.
As the only country delivering products with FLEGT licenses, which are not subject to any further EUTR risk mitigation measures, unlike other non-EU countries Indonesia may be expected to benefit from this more active enforcement of EUTR.
There is some evidence for this. The EU’s total imports of tropical wood products from Indonesia increased 7% to 175,000 MT in the first 6 months of 2018, and Indonesia’s share of total EU tropical imports increased from 15.7% to 16.6% in the same period, mainly at the expense of Cameroon and Gabon.
While EUTR may now be favouring Indonesia in the EU market, other supply side factors are also playing a role.
As noted in the last market report, supplies of African hardwood species of interest to the EU market are in long term decline, while exports from African have been seriously affected by logistical challenges at the port of Douala in Cameroon and cash flow problems of large European operators, issues brought to a head with the sale of Rougier’s subsidiaries in Cameroon and the Central African Republic in July.
Supplies of both Malaysian and Indonesian products were also restricted in the first half of 2018, largely attributed by European importers to the long and severe wet season and its impact on harvesting and log transport, with mills consequently running short of logs. This fed through into rising prices.
Plywood prices for both Malaysia and Indonesia in the EU increased by 30% in the six months between October 2017 and March 2018.
Meanwhile a larger share of African supply is now being exported to China, Vietnam and other emerging markets.