New EU rules for CE marking of structural plywood, timber legality, drive importers to avoid Chinese plywood, source alternatives including sapele-faced or dyed poplar veneer-faced boards

YOKOHAMA, Japan , September 15, 2013 () – Slow European demand for plywood balanced by reduced supply

EUTR continues to drive changes in the market for Chinese plywood products. European buyers are focusing on a smaller number of exporters considered better able to provide the legality assurances required.

European companies are preferring suppliers with which they have long term relationships to help ensure products are supplied with appropriate technical and environmental documentation.

This trend is driven as much by the new demands of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) as by the EUTR. Since 1 July, CPR has imposed mandatory requirements for CE marking of all plywood for structural use in the EU.

One important implication of both the EUTR and CPR is that importers now need very precise information on the species content of veneers used to manufacture plywood. Strong emphasis is placed on species considered to be low risk of illegal harvest to replace those considered higher risk. Information on species content is also obviously necessary for determining product strength and durability for CE marking purposes.

African sapele is increasingly preferred over bintangor from Papua New Guinea for face veneers. There is some FSC availability of sapele and greater European confidence in legality documentation from Cameroon which is engaged in the FLEGT VPA process.

On the other hand sapele veneer is a relatively expensive option. Increased demand has already driven a significant rise in prices for sapele logs, particularly those that are FSC-certified.

As a result other African species, lesser used in the past, are also being tried, such as lotofa (Sterculia rhinopetala) from Cameroon.

There is also rising European interest in plywood faced with dyed poplar reconstituted “fineline” wood veneer.

China’s share of EU plywood market dips in 2013

The latest trade data shows that there was a sharp fall in EU imports of hardwood plywood in March 2013 (see figure below). This was almost entirely due to a dip in imports from China. Imports from China rebounded a little in April, but then weakened again in May.

In the first five months of 2013, EU imports of all hardwood plywood from China were 367,000 m3, down 15% from 434,000 m3 in the same period in 2012. China's share of total EU hardwood plywood imports fell from 45% in the first five months of 2012 to 42% in the same period of 2013.

It‟s still too early to say whether the decline in China's share represents a significant structural shift in the EU plywood market, or a short term response to Europe's weak consumption.

Source: Tropical Timber Market Report, International Tropical Timber Organization.

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