Large Chinese suppliers increasingly dominant in UK tropical plywood imports

EU imports of tropical plywood products were 250,100 MT in the first nine months of 2019, 4% more than the same period last year. Import value increased 7% to €221.5 million.

A large and growing proportion of the plywood faced with tropical hardwood imported into the EU is manufactured in China. The EU imported 110,000 MT of this product from China in the first nine months of 2019, 32% more than during the same period in 2018. When linked with news that numerous smaller mills in China have closed in recent years due to new emissions controls, and anecdotal reports from European buyers of a greater focus on quality and species content due to EUTR and CE Marking requirements, the strong implication is that the trade is becoming more concentrated amongst a few large consolidated suppliers in China.

Although direct imports of plywood have increased from a few tropical countries this year, the total volume was down 12% at 122,300 MT in the first nine months of 2019. Imports increased from Gabon by 12% to 11,100 MT, from Brazil by 8% to 8,700 MT, and from Morocco by 41% to 4,600 MT.

However, these gains were not enough offset declining plywood imports from the two largest tropical suppliers, Indonesia and Malaysia, this year. Imports from Indonesia declined 6% to 64,500 MT and fell 29% from Malaysia to 29,700 MT.

A brief surge in imports from Vietnamearlier in the year also faltered in the third quarter so that total imports were down 20% at 8,100 by the end of the nine months to September 2019.

EU imports of tropical hardwood plywood during 2019 are being strongly influenced by market issues elsewhere in the world, notably the US-China trade dispute which has led to a dramatic decline in Chinese hardwood plywood exports to the United States and increasing diversion of Chinese product to the EU, mainly destined for the UK. In the first nine months of 2019, UK imports of tropical plywood products increased 19% to 140,300 MT, despite widespread reports of overstocking and declining plywood consumption in the country.

UK imports of tropical hardwood plywood from China increased 72% to 78,800 MT in the first nine months of 2019, while UK imports from Malaysia fell 29%, to 25,100 MT, and were down 7% from Indonesia to 26,900 MT.

In contrast to the UK, tropical plywood imports declined into all other major EU markets in the first nine months of 2019, including Belgium (-21% to 26,300 MT), Netherlands (-11% to 24,200 MT), Germany (-7% to 18,600 MT), France (-3% to 14,700 MT) and Italy (-4% to 12,300 MT).

A small increase in imports into Greece, by 4% to 2,300 MT, did little to mitigate this downward trend.

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