The total value of EU imports of wood products was 19.44 billion euro in 2018, 5.1% more than in 2017. This followed an increase of 2.4% to 18.49 billion euro in 2017. In 2018 EU import value was at the highest level since 2008 just before the global financial crises.
The rise in imports into the EU occurred despite slowing economic growth during 2018. According to the EU Winter 2019 Economic Forecast published on 7 February, economic activity in the EU moderated in the second half of last year as global trade growth slowed, uncertainty sapped confidence and output in some Member States was adversely affected by temporary domestic factors, including social tensions and uncertainty over fiscal policy and Brexit.
As a result, GDP growth in both the euro area and the EU likely slipped to 1.9% in 2018, down from 2.4% in 2017. Slowing economic growth fed through into a fall in the value of the euro and the British pound last year, both of which weakened against the U.S. dollar by around 8% during 2018. However, EU currencies remained strong relative to currencies in several key Eastern European supply countries, including Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey.
Both the euro and British pound strengthened by around 7% against the Russian rouble in 2018 and by over 25% against the Turkish lira. These exchange rate fluctuations generally favored EU imports from Eastern Europe and acted as a drag on imports from North America and Asia.
Considering individual products, the value of EU imports of wood furniture decreased by 1% to 6.35 billion euro in 2018 after a 7% rise in 2017. A dip in EU imports of wood furniture from China and Norway was offset by rising imports from Ukraine, Belarus, Bosnia, Serbia, Russia and Turkey.
This forms part of general trend of increasing EU dependence on wood furniture manufactured in central and Eastern Europe. EU wood furniture imports from tropical countries, led by Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, were flat overall last year, although imports from India continued to rise.
Growth in EU imports of sawn wood resumed in 2018 after flat-lining the previous year. The total value of EU imports of sawnwood (including both softwood and hardwood) in 2018 was 3.59 billion euro, nearly 10% more than in 2017.
There was a particularly significant 21% increase in the value of EU sawnwood imports from the CIS countries in 2018, building on an 11% increase the previous year. Most of the increase in sawnwood imports from CIS countries in 2018 came from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and is due both to currency weakness and increasing controls on log exports from these countries.
EU imports of sawnwood, both softwood and hardwood, increased sharply from Brazil in 2018. Imports of tropical sawn wood from both South East Asia (most notably from Malaysia and Myanmar) and Africa (mainly Cameroon, Gabon and Congo) regained some ground in 2018 after a sharp fall the previous year. EU imports of sawnwood from North America slowed a little in 2018.
EU imports of panels (mainly plywood) increased 8% to Euro 3.06 billion in 2018. This follows a 9% rise in 2017 and is the fifth consecutive year of import growth of this commodity.
As for other wood commodities, much of the gain was due to a rise in plywood imports from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, however plywood imports from China, Brazil and Indonesia also increased in 2018.
Imports of plywood and veneer from Gabon slowed in 2018, being affected by the financial problems of the Rougier group. There was a partial recovery in veneer imports from Cote d’Ivoire in 2018. EU imports of composite panels increased from Turkey.
The long-term rise in EU imports of energy wood accelerated in 2018 with annual import value rising over 20% to 2.47 billion euro. This followed a slowdown to only 3% growth in 2017 after average annual growth of 11% in the previous five years.
There was another sharp increase in EU imports of energy wood from the United States in 2018 (now dominated by pellets), to reach over 1 billion euro for the first time, with most destined for the UK. Imports of energy wood also increased sharply from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, mainly destined for continental EU. Import growth also resumed from Brazil and Uruguay.
EU imports of other joinery products (mainly doors and laminated wood for window frames and kitchen tops) increased 1% to Euro 710 million in 2018, recovering from a 1% fall the previous year.
Imports of joinery products from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus continued to rise last year, with gains also made by Indonesia, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Turkey.
China continued to lose ground, although it maintained its position as the single largest external supplier of this commodity group in the EU market, just ahead of Indonesia. EU imports of joinery products were stable from Malaysia in 2018.
After falling back 9% in 2016 and staying flat in 2017, EU imports of wood flooring increased 2.6% to 580 million in 2018.
Flooring imports from China, by far the largest external supplier accounting for around two thirds of the total, recovered ground in 2018, while imports from Ukraine increased sharply, helping to offset a decline in imports from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and Switzerland.