Trade of logs and lumber in Europe expected to change in the coming years

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In its latest report, Wood Resources International (WRI) says that the trade of logs and lumber in Europe will “change dramatically” in the coming years, with timber harvests having reportedly peaked in Central Europe. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having a significant impact on European imports of all forest products, further destabilising supply. 

A pivotal moment for European wood

According to WRI, Central Europe has experienced record high timber harvests over the past few years. This has apparently been driven by extensive damage from a spruce bark beetle outbreak in the region, particularly Czechia and Germany, which resulted in an “unsustainable level” of roundwood harvesting between 2017 and 2021. With roundwood removals up by 15% during this period, lumber production and log exportation also rose.

In response, WRI explains that domestic sawmills have absorbed around 60% of this surge in wood supply, with increased exports of sawlogs and pulplogs representing the remaining amount. The Central European sawmill industry has expanded, according to WRI, as a result of additional wood supply at competitive prices and strong lumber markets both worldwide and in Europe between 2020 and 2021. WRI adds that the production of wood pellets also grew in this period as supplies of sawdust and woodchip increased.

However, WRI notes that the roundwood markets have reached “a turning point” as damage from the bark beetle outbreak peaked in 2019. The amount of damage from bark beetles reportedly dropped by 5% in 2020, followed by a further 24% fall in 2021. WRI says that the volume of damaged wood will revert to “close to long-term average levels” by 2025, decreasing by a rate of 10-20% annually.

WRI therefore predicts that Central Europe’s lumber production will decline from current record levels, which could result in a regional shift from net log exporter to net log importer. In the coming years, this will require exporters and consumers of logs to adjust to a reduced supply of softwood, WRI says.

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