Demand for wooden furniture in the EU rising slowly

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Demand for wooden furniture in the EU is rising slowly but the signs are not very positive for external suppliers into the region, particularly from the tropics.

Although the official Eurostat annual production data has yet to be published, a review of Eurostat indices and trade data suggests that EU consumption of wooden furniture was around Euro 36.1 billion in 2016, a gain of 1% compared to 2015.

During 2016, consumption was quite stable in the largest markets including Germany, the UK, Italy and France compared to the previous year, but consumption increased slightly in Spain, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The value of EU wooden furniture production is estimated to have been around Euro 39.6 billion in 2016, 1% higher than the previous year, but still 20% down on the level prevailing before the financial crises in 2008. A slight slowdown in production in Italy and Germany, the two largest manufacturing countries offset gains in Poland, the UK, Spain, Romania and Lithuania. 

Analysis of Eurostat trade data reveals that internal EU trade in wooden furniture was Euro 16.2 billion in 2016, 4% more than the previous year and continuing a rising trend of the previous two years.

This trend is driven both by the slow rise in EU consumption and by rising dependence of the internal EU market on manufacturers located in lower cost member states of Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, Romania, and Lithuania.

The EU has maintained a trade surplus in wooden furniture since 2011 when exports to non-EU countries overtook imports from outside the EU. However, this surplus has been narrowing, falling from Euro 2.59 billion in 2013 to Euro 1.60 billion in 2016. In 2016, EU exports to non-EU countries fell 4% to Euro 7.31 billion, while imports from non-EU countries fell 1% to Euro 5.71 billion. 

Taken together these trends are indicative of intensifying competition in the EU wooden furniture market. EU manufacturers, particularly in Eastern Europe, are producing more at a time when domestic consumption is growing slowly and exports to other parts of the world are weakening.

Last year EU wooden furniture exports declined into the Middle East and Russia and were flat into North America, Switzerland, Norway, and Japan. Minor gains in China and a few other emerging markets were insufficient to offset declining demand elsewhere.

After making significant gains in the EU market in 2015, EU wood furniture imports from China and tropical countries slipped back last year. In 2016, import value declined 5% from China to Euro 3.01 billion and was down 3% from tropical countries to Euro 1.63 billion.

However, EU import value from non-EU temperate countries increased by 14% to Euro1.07 billion, with particularly large gains by Turkey, Bosnia, Serbia, Ukraine and Belarus.

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