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Steady increase in wood chips global trade

June 13, 2013, Seattle, Wash. – The global pulp industry has increased its importation of wood chips in the past 10 years, reaching the second highest import levels on record in 2012. Japan, China, Finland and Turkey were the largest importing countries last year.

Wood Resource Quarterly reports that from 2009 to 2011, global chip trade increased by 6.5 million tons to a little more than 31 million tons, valued at more than US$5 billion. Much of the increase is due to the expansion of MDF production capacity in Turkey and major investments in China’s pulp capacity.

The top ranking chip-importing countries has changed in the past five years. Although Japan is still the largest chip importer in the world, import volumes have declined from a record-high of almost 15 million tons in 2008 to just over 11 million tons in 2012. China, on the other hand, has gone from being a net exporter of chips less than 10 years ago, to the second largest importer of wood chips in the world.

With the expansion of pulp production capacity in China and the lack of domestic fibre sources, the Wood Resource Quarterly suggests that China will surpass Japan as the largest chip importer within two to three years. Their dominance is particularly accentuated for hardwood chips, where they imported 83 per cent of the world’s total imports in 2012.

Pulp mills in Finland, the third largest chip importer, have for a long time relied on residual chips from Russian sawmills with close proximity to the border and on chips from the Baltic States, says the Wood Resource Quarterly. This trade has increased in recent years. The fourth on the import ranking list for 2012 is Turkey, which has become a major chip destination in the past few years.

It is likely that global trade of wood chips will continue to go up in the coming years for two main reasons.

  1. There are limited forest resources in some of the countries that are expanding industry capacity.
     
  2. Some forest companies are making the decision to diversify their supply sources and import wood chips rather than procure marginal fibre supplies locally.