WOOD FROM FINLAND CONFERENCE BRINGS RECORD-BREAKING CROWD TO HELSINKI
The annual Wood from Finland conference attracted a record-breaking crowd to the Clarion hotel on Thursday, with close to 500 global sawmill professionals assembling in Helsinki to update the industry’s short- and long-term outlook. In addition to country-specific market reviews, the event featured presentations on, for example, the global economy, China’s situation and the utilisation of natural resources in the future.
Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, opened the event with a look at the global security policy situation. In addition to the strong support required by Ukraine, Minister Haavisto highlighted the need for dialogue within the EU.
“Openness must be maintained in both trade and investments. The economy also requires diversification and we must engage in dialogue with the United States to ensure that no trade barriers are created between Europe and the USA,” he said.
Danske Bank’s Chief Analyst Minna Kuusisto described the more positive than predicted global economic prospects. Inflation has peaked and several banks have adjusted their growth expectations upwards. Instead of the predicted recession, the economy is expected to grow and, according to Kuusisto, there are three reasons for this. Thanks to the mild winter and demand response on the electricity market, the rise in energy prices ceased and the price of electricity returned to the pre-war level. Secondly, China, where the market has opened up after COVID, has also helped drive the economy forward. The third factor is a strong labour market and the resulting record-low unemployment. The acceleration of inflation due to, for example, China’s growing raw material demand remains a short-term risk and interest rates will stay high for some time still. Kuusisto mentioned geopolitical risks, new business priorities such as growing ESG requirements, as well as changes in global demographics as long-term trends impacting the economy and business.
Lauri Hetemäki, Professor of Practice at Helsinki University’s Faculty of Agriculture & Forestry, explored in his presentation the challenges and opportunities faced by the global forest sector in the future. He stated that, at the same time as the need for forests and wood raw material will grow by an estimated 25 per cent by 2050, their use will also become more diverse. To ensure that operations remain sustainable, the parties using forests must find more synergies and minimise the harm resulting from utilising nature.
“The woodworking industry can play a key role in achieving a sustainable future for cities, however,” Hetemäki pointed out.
Changes in global flow of goods
The economy of China, a key export market for Finnish sawn timber, has suffered from the impacts of COVID. The country’s GDP plunged in the first quarter of 2021, ending up at three per cent last year. After the lifting of restrictions, China is relying on the slow and gradual recovery of the markets, and GDP growth for this year is expected to be approximately six per cent.
Sawn timber imports are expected to pick up as production levels increase. In 2022, imports of sawn timber and logs fell to the 2015 level – sinking to some ten per cent for sawn timber, or 17.3 million cubic metres. The market is dominated by Russia, which has been able to grow its market share to 69 per cent despite the downturn. Last year, a total of 881,000 m3 of sawn timber was exported from Finland to China, and despite the decline in import volumes, Finland has increased its market share from 3.5 per cent to 5.1 per cent. This is mostly the result of a weakening in Canada’s market share. Russia’s chances of increasing its export volumes to China are limited by challenges related to logistics and harvesting raw material.
In the USA, altogether 83 million cubic metres of sawn timber was used, of which just over a third was used for new buildings. The construction boom of the past few years has ended, however, and new building starts are predicted to decline to slightly below normal during this year, to around 1.3 million. The consumption of sawn timber is forecast to weaken by some six per cent.
In Canada, and especially British Columbia, sawn timber production volumes have decreased dramatically. Over the past decade, production has fallen by as much as 30 per cent. The most significant reason for this is the insect damage that has been wreaking havoc in the area for several years, which has reduced logging opportunities and led to raw material availability problems and thus a reduction in sawmill production. The sawn timber void created on the North American market has been partly supplemented from Europe, but new sawmills have sprung up in southern parts of the United States, which have enabled the country’s sawn timber production capacity to rise by 40 per cent.
To finish off the event, Tino Aalto, CEO of the Finnish Sawmills Association, described the industry’s operating environment and highlighted the significance of active advocacy to ensure that the sawmill industry’s operating environment remains good. Several proposals are being processed at both the national and EU level, which may have an impact on raw material availability and logistics costs, for example. The CEO stated that he feels that decision-making should focus more on improving competitiveness and ensuring the availability of wood raw material. Aalto closed the conference on a positive note, stating that the sector’s best days are still ahead.
“The sawmill industry is not a problem, but an important part of the climate change solution.”
The Finnish Sawmills Association, established in 1945, promotes the interests of the independent sawmill industry. The association has 30 member companies, whose share of Finnish sawn timber production is just over half. The value of sawn timber and further-processed goods exports was some EUR 2.9 billion in 2021. All of the production input is from Finland. The sawmills pay two thirds of forest owners’ stumpage earnings. Sawn timber is a sustainable and climate-friendly renewable material for which there is growing demand.