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Japan’s appetite for B.C. wood reviving

One of B.C.'s most stable and lucrative lumber export markets is gathering steam again. Housing starts in Japan this year edged closer to 2008 levels, thanks in part to a post-tsunami building boom.

March 14, 2013  By  John Tenpenny

“It’s always been a strong market,” Shawn Lawlor, Japan director for the Council of Forest Industries (COFI), told Business in Vancouver from his Tokyo office. “China and other markets have come on stream in recent times, and Japan’s sort of been under the radar.”

It’s a far cry from what happened after another major natural disaster: the Kobe earthquake in 1995.

“For the coastal forest industry, the Kobe earthquake and the fallout was fairly disastrous,” said Rick Jeffery, president and CEO of the Coast Forest Products Association (CFPA).

Prior to the Kobe quake, Japan was the biggest market for B.C. coastal hemlock. Jeffery said B.C. companies lost “an incredible amount” of market share to European engineered wood products, favoured because structures made from them hold up better in an earthquake.


B.C.’s wood exports were also hit hard by the recession Japan experienced through the late 1990s and the collapse of its high-flying real-estate bubble.

Despite its ups and downs, the market is worth fighting for because Japanese buyers purchase only the best quality wood.

“This is the premium type of product that is produced by mills in the Interior of B.C.,” said Lawlor. “Visually, it’s basically perfect, and it commands a very high price.”

Lawlor expects the current construction activity to last for the next three to five years. Given Japan’s aging population, he doesn’t expect to see another boom in single-family housing after that.

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