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The easing of lockdown conditions in many countries are causing significant upward pressure. These include a mismatch between the demand and supply of wood, as activity in construction and other wood using sectors have returned to pre-crisis levels following lockdowns and other restrictions earlier this year, while many sawmillers have remained closed or operated at below capacity and have seen their stocks fall to critical levels.

These are some of the conclusions drawn by the European Federation of Wooden Pallet & Packaging Manufacturers (FEFPEB). The organisation, which represents manufacturers and other businesses in the European wooden pallet and packaging industry, warned that tighter supplies of wood in some international markets is expected to increase prices into and beyond the final quarter of 2020.

In the US, domestic production has risen by just 2.5% and prices have doubled in just three months; there have been interruptions in the supply of South America timber to the US; and in Canada output fell by 13% in the first five months of 2020. Accordingly, European wood suppliers – particularly in Germany and parts of Scandinavia – have increased export volumes to the US and other non-European markets; this has diverted volumes that would otherwise have been available to European users. The US and China are currently the number one and three destinations, respectively, for German softwood exports.

A backlog in issuing felling licences in Ireland and uncertainty leading up to the end of the UK’s Brexit phase on December 31, 2020, have been adding to the effect on prices.

The situation is impacting on all wood sectors, including the pallet and packaging industry, which uses smaller logs and falling boards.

“The extraordinary trading conditions we have experienced for most of 2020 have led to an unbalanced market affecting the range of wood-based industries in Europe, from construction and fencing, to our own industry,” said FEFPEB secretary-general, Fons Ceelaert.

“Wood pallets and packaging have a critical role to play in essential supply chains of food, drink and pharmaceutical goods and demand for these products has remained steady throughout lockdown periods. As other sectors have returned to near-normal trading levels we are facing competition for our raw materials – and accordingly, we anticipate an increase in prices in the short- to medium term.”

FEPFEB’s Pallet Timber Price Index, produced quarterly (and therefore may not reflect the most recent developments) uses independent figures produced in its member countries, including the Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

“In spite of current price volatility, wood remains the most economic choice of material for the manufacture of pallets and transit packaging,” added Mr Ceelaert. “It is also the most sustainable, as it is reusable, repairable and recyclable.”

At FEFPEB’s 2019 congress in Hamburg, president Rob van Hoesel challenged wooden pallet and packaging businesses to move further towards using 100% certified sustainable wood production.

Pallets made from wood are the best choice for use in supply chains where hygiene is particularly important, according to a study carried out by Institut für Holztechnologie in Dresden on behalf of EPAL Germany between February 2018 and December 2019. The study compared the microbial properties of standard EPAL Euro pallets and H1 plastic pallets and found that wooden pallets have an antibacterial activity that is more than 13 times higher than that of the plastic pallets.

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