Forests Minister Steve Thomson is leading the B.C. industry’s annual trade mission to promote lumber sales in Asia this week, with a focus on maintaining sales in a soft market.
Accompanied by more than 30 executives from B.C. forest companies, Thomson started the trip Monday with a visit to Japan’s largest-ever wood building, an elderly care facility under construction in Tokyo. The visit comes as Japan’s economy is slipping back into recession.
Japan has been a major lumber customer for B.C. since the 1970s, and is the third largest buyer behind the United States and China. So far this year, sales volume to Japan is down, but value is up slightly to $556 million, in a market known for demanding high-grade wood.
The next stops are Dalian and Beijing, China, which is B.C.’s biggest recent success story with sales that topped $1 billion last year for mostly lower-grade lumber. So far in 2015, sales to China are off 11 per cent from the same time last year as the world’s most populous country struggles to maintain economic growth.
In an interview as he prepared to leave, Thomson said B.C. lumber producers are faced with slow sales in Asia and a decline in timber supply for standard lumber in the wake of the pine beetle epidemic. After years of promotion, B.C. has reached 43 per cent of all China’s imported lumber, over competitors including Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
“One of the focuses of the mission is to move the product up the value chain, particularly in the China market, because as you look to supply limitations, you want to make sure you get maximum value out of it,” Thomson said. “So it’s important to move up into the mid-rise multi-family construction, infill partition walls, hybrid construction, that aspect of it.”
Along with the industry and the federal government, B.C. has promoted wood construction as a green and earthquake-resistant alternative to concrete, the building standard in China.
Susan Yurkovich, named president of the Council of Forest Industries in June, is making her first official visit to Asia. COFI represents B.C.’s biggest lumber producers, including Interfor, West Fraser, Weyerhaeuser, Conifex, Domtar, Gorman, Dunkley, Babine Forest Products and Canfor.
Yurkovich said member companies have meetings lined up with Asian buyers, and she wants to spread the word that B.C. is a reliable supplier of lumber from sustainably managed sources.
B.C.’s top five lumber customers by volume are the U.S., China, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines and South Korea. With the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement having expired, participants say diversifying B.C.’s lumber market is more important than ever.