Accurate estimates of the specific effects on timber trade volumes this year will only become apparent when more countries publish trade data for the first quarter (data for European trade during that period is due be published in mid-May).
Anecdotally, reports suggest most European timber importers were putting orders on hold in the second half of March and during April as they struggled to deal with a build-up of stock that couldn’t be shifted as manufacturers, retailers and construction sites have gone into lockdown.
Shipper and forwarder groups in Europe have been calling on carriers and terminals to exercise restraint before issuing detention and demurrage charges for goods ordered before the lockdown that were still on the water and due to arrive in April and May.
Adding to the uncertainty, freight rates have become volatile, rising sharply on some routes (e.g. from Europe to China and East Asia) and falling on others (e.g. North America to Europe).
Containers shipping cargoes from Asia to Europe, the US and other countries have been severely reduced, with no empty containers transporting timber back. Shipping companies have cancelled hundreds of vessels in response to the fall in demand.
According to a report by Bollore Logistics, European ports are continuing to operate despite difficult conditions and containers are being processed for onward movement, although clearances by some customs authorities is slower and there are border bottlenecks. Most shipping companies continue to operate, although they are adding surcharges and available space and equipment has become very restricted.
Within Europe itself, the borders of the Schengen area and between the European Union and the rest of the world are partially or completely closed. However, the flow of goods is free from these restrictions and continues to be authorised to ensure supply chains can be maintained.
Land transport of goods is continuing in Europe, subject to disruptions and slowdowns due to increased border control, sanitary measures (such as health checks on drivers) and special arrangements (including closure of certain border posts and detours, limited driver availability).