A Bright Light
By Bill Tice editor
The Canadian wood products industry has had its fair share of bumps and bruises over the past couple of years, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a bright light out there for some of those that earn their living from logging and log processing, along with all of the spinoff businesses related to the forest sector.
By Bill Tice editor
That bright light is of course China, and the consensus amongst many in government, industry associations and companies that manufacture and sell wood products is this new market is here to stay. It’s big, It has the potential to be lucrative, and most importantly, it may finally offer us a viable market option for our wood products other than our neighbours to the south.
As it stands right now, British Columbia seems to be leading the pack when it comes to selling Canadian wood to China and most industry people in the province haven’t wasted any time jumping on the bandwagon. Forestry Innovation Investment Ltd. (FII), which is a provincial agency that promotes British Columbia’s forest practices and products around the world, throws out some fairly impressive numbers. They say the province’s annual lumber sales to China have nearly tripled, from about $113 million in 2007 to more than $327 million last year.
The B.C. government has of course been a firm supporter of selling B.C. wood to China and Minister of Forests and Range Pat Bell takes every opportunity he can to build on the momentum. He has said that by the end of this year, 20% of B.C.’s wood products output will be shipped to China. That’s up from 10% just last year.
One Vancouver-based company, Canfor Corporation, has even started up one of its idled sawmills to produce product exclusively for China. Canfor’s Quesnel dimension sawmill started up the saws in June following an almost six month shutdown and will produce approximately 200 million BF of Spruce-Pine-Fire lumber annually. Jim Shepard, the company’s president and CEO, said the move was “a good example of Canfor’s commitment to China” and he added that it was the first time the company has aligned a sawmill to one country. The mill will produce metric sizes and its entire output will be shipped to various regions of China. For the industry here at home, the re-opening of the Quesnel mill put 155 people back to work.
One of the reasons for the upswing in the use of wood products in China is the country’s ever-changing building codes. A lot of hard work by a number of Canadian organizations has helped convince Chinese authorities that wood is a good choice for building, especially in earthquake prone areas of the country. And it’s not just new construction that is finding wood as an alternative to more traditional building materials. For many multi-storey apartment buildings, new roofs are needed and wood trusses are proving to be a good choice. Interior walls in many new construction and renovation projects are also being constructed with wood. So what was once considered a product for low-grade uses such as concrete forming, is rapidly taking centre stage in many Chinese construction and renovation projects.
Educating the market has certainly played a role in the success story to date and last year, FII and Canada Wood hosted 52 training sessions where they reached more than 2,500 construction personnel and taught them about using and working with wood. CW/FII also produced and distributed over 25,000 copies of Chinese language technical publications on wood construction.
There is of course some controversy around the markets in China with some saying we are giving away Canadian remanufacturing jobs to poorly paid workers in China. It’s true, China is taking some of our low grade lumber products and producing higher quality construction materials and furniture components, but most industry people will say the jobs we are creating here at home, like the ones at Canfor in Quesnel, far outweigh the loss of Canadian remanufacturing jobs. More controversial, is the shipping of raw logs to China, which is happening. Right now, most of these logs are coming from B.C.’s north coast, where there is a definite lack of processing facilities and many say they would sooner see logging jobs, than no jobs.
The market in China is an interesting topic and there are numerous aspects to the story. In this issue, you will find a special feature on China’s appetite for Canadian wood and our markets expert Russ Taylor takes a bullish look at the Chinese market and walks us through what we might expect over the next few years. It makes for some interesting reading. Enjoy.
Bill Tice, Editor