EU wooden furniture imports from SE Asian suppliers fell in 2016

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The EU import value of wooden furniture declined from most of the largest tropical suppliers in 2016. Import value was down 2% from Vietnam to Euro 716 million, 6% from Indonesia to Euro 299 million, 5% from Malaysia to Euro 183 million, 18% from Thailand to Euro 63 million and 3% from Brazil to Euro 118 million.

However, India bucked the trend and increased sales in the EU by 10% in 2016, to Euro 179 million.

The total share of tropical countries in EU wooden furniture import value remained level at between 28% and 29% in the last four years. However, during this time the share of Vietnam increased at the expense of other South East Asian countries, and also to some extent at the expense of China, although the latter is still dominant.

Other temperate supplying countries outside the EU – including Turkey, Serbia, Ukraine and Belarus – have also been increasing share at the expense of China and tropical countries other than Vietnam.

Meanwhile, unlike in North America, the EU’s domestic manufacturers are maintaining their domination of the European wooden furniture market.

In 2016, domestic manufacturers accounted for around 87% for the total value of wooden furniture supplied into the EU market, the same proportion as the previous year and little changed, in fact, since 2007.

There are many reasons for the continuing dominance of domestic manufacturers. An obvious short term factor is weakening of European currencies in the last 2 years – particularly the UK pound - against the dollar and Chinese yuan.

More enduring factors include: the relative high degree of fragmentation in the European retailing sector – which greatly complicates market access for overseas suppliers; the underlying strength of European furniture manufacturers and their brands in terms of innovation and design; the obstacles to overseas suppliers complying with European technical and environmental standards; and the expansion of furniture manufacturing in Eastern Europe, a location which combines ready access to raw materials and to the internal EU market.

Although labour costs are quite high in Europe relative to China and South East Asia, furniture manufacturers in the EU are making a virtue of their shorter supply chains which not only reduce transport costs but also allow products to be delivered and, if necessary, returned more rapidly.

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