Manufacturing News

US hardwood exporters branch out in Chinese furniture, building sector

United States-based hardwood exporters are boosting their growth in China's furniture, decoration and eco-friendly building material markets as the nation pushes to accelerate the pace of its urbanization drive.

Government plans to build 1 billion sq m of 'green' buildings
Michael Snow, executive director of the American Hardwood Export Council, said that amid the continuing uncertainty in many Western economies, the growth rate of the usage of US hardwood across China and Southeast Asia has been stable over the past few years.

The China and Southeast Asia regional market, covering China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has become the largest export market for US hardwood producers and accounts for 52 percent, or $1.2 billion, of global exports in 2012, with China alone representing 38 percent of these exports, according to the foreign agricultural service of the US Department of Agriculture.

The US is the world's largest producer and exporter of hardwood lumber, representing 20 percent of global shipments. Last year, US hardwood shipments to China rose 19 percent in terms of value compared with the previous year.

The value of all of the US hardwood exports to China in 2012 - such as lumber, veneer, plywood and flooring products - reached its highest value ever at $602 million.

Headquartered in Washington DC, the American Hardwood Export Council is an international non-profit trade association of the US hardwood industry. It represents over 100 US hardwood exporters and major hardwood product trade associations in the US.

"Even though the future demand of China's furniture market continues to depend on the domestic housing market and the country has implemented a number of policies to stabilize the property prices and prevent housing speculation, China has entered the second phase of urbanization, which will lead to another wave in consuming hardwood and timber products," Snow said.

He added that China's fast urbanization process and rigid housing demand to a certain extent have created a new generation of increasingly affluent consumers who are keen to outfit their homes and offices with quality interior furnishings made with US hardwood.

Rupert Oliver, director of Forest Industries Intelligence Ltd, a UK-based consultancy serving a range of clients in the international forest products sector, said there is a growing need to combine economic growth and environmental concerns. In China, the use of wood products and renewable materials can significantly cut carbon dioxide emissions, he added.

According to China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), the nation plans to reduce carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 17 percent in 2015.

"This is part of the Chinese government's strategy to eliminate the impact caused by global warming, declining ecosystems and water contamination," Oliver said.

The Chinese government also plans to build 1 billion square meters of "green" buildings between 2011 and 2015, and to ensure that eco-friendly buildings account for 20 percent of all the new urban buildings by 2015.

Another factor that has stimulated China's hardwood imports is the government's protection of the country's wood resources.

China began to protect its forests in 1998 after it was hit by a timber shortage of about 60 million cubic meters per year. The country will be heavily dependent on imported timber resources from the US, Canada, Russia, Germany and Cameroon for the next 30 years.

To further aid its global expansion, the American Hardwood Export Council announced the launch of a comprehensive environmental profiling system for US hardwood with wide-ranging implications for the sector.

The new American Hardwood Environmental Profile will provide guidance on US hardwood, demonstrating the legality and sustainability of every consignment of lumber and veneer delivered to global export destinations.

It will also provide access to information on the identity of the US supplier, product description, quality of the wood, commercial and scientific species name, place of harvest, and documents demonstrating negligible risk of illegal harvest.

Snow said the system will have wider implications for manufacturers and the "green" building industries in China and across Southeast Asia.

"Over the next few years, we will see a transformation in hardwood manufacturing in China from low cost to medium- and high-end products using higher grades of wood, as well as a rise in manufacturing centers in Vietnam," said John Chan, regional director of the American Hardwood Export Council for Southeast Asia and China.

More than 70 member companies of the American Hardwood Export Council have established branches and distribution facilities in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province. Harbin's periphery has developed wood processing and manufacturing plants, as well as wood distribution services with nationwide coverage.

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