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US feeds China's hunger for wood

Updated: 2015-07-14 13:52
By ZHONG NAN in Nanning and JACK FREIFELDER in New York (China Daily USA)

Timber demand is on the rise in China and they can't grow enough of it themselves fast enough.

The widening supply gap has forced China - the world's largest wood importer - to purchase more timber from Russia, the United States, Canada and New Zealand to meet surging demand.

"The market in China now accounts for 42.6 percent of total export volume of US hardwoods, by far the world's largest single customer," said Mike Snow, executive director of the American Hardwood Export Council.

Last year, China's demand for foreign timber hit 76.8 million cubic meters, a 40 percent increase compared to 2013, according to the General Administration of Customs.

By 2020, demand for timber is expected to jump to 800 million cu m.

Under a government plan, at least 30 percent of new buildings will have to be environmentally friendly by 2020.

By the end of this year, 20 percent of new urban construction will have to be eco-friendly.

The government is eager to prevent the cost of wood spiraling by cutting imports by 10 percentage points from the current 60 percent level during the next five years.

Demand for US wood in China has been traditionally focused on the large city centers along the coast -Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Beijing - with considerable amounts then re-exported as manufactured goods, in addition to being consumed locally.

"With urbanization we're starting to see demand in some of the second-tier cities," Snow said. "That's going to be our opportunity to increase the market and see continued growth in China."

Export values for hardwoods traveling from the United States to China jumped 34 percent year-on-year in 2014, Snow said, as China its demand for materials going toward its urbanization program and environmental projects

The value of US hardwood products sold into China reached $1.53 billion last year, according to data from the foreign agricultural service of the US Department of Agriculture.

"The US is the largest hardwood lumber exporter in the world - we're about 25 percent of the global total in trade - and China is by far the largest importer," Snow said.

Snow said that one of the big changes over the past 15 years has been Chinese furniture exporting companies starting to "turn inward to look for customers."

"We actually saw an acceleration in our exports of the raw materials. Now roughly 80 percent or so of what we're shipping there is actually being consumed within China. That's really been a night-and-day change," Snow said.

"But part of our big push now is making sure that there is transparent, scientific information on actual environmental impacts for what's out there in the marketplace," Snow said.

"We are seeing significant interest in China on those issues, and that's changed radically in the last five to seven years," Snow said. "They're extremely conscious about environmental impact, so that's been one of our major selling points."

Contact the writers at zhongnan@chinadaily.com.cn and jackfreifelder@chinadailyusa.com.

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