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In terms of plywood supply to Europe the major concern early on in the pandemic was China.

“When they went into lockdown, as far as we were concerned, they just turned off the tap,” said one importer. “We didn’t see deliveries from February, through to early April. We and our customers had to live off inventories.”

However, through April and May, Chinese supply was reported to have recovered steadily, and in the summer to be back to normal. One importer reported a ‘surge of outstanding deliveries in July’.

Increasing freight rates, up in the last couple of months from $1,300/1,400 FEU to $2,000 are now impacting Chinese competitiveness. In addition the strengthening of the CNY against the dollar, plus increased veneer prices due to the effects of bad weather on supply, are reported to be prompting Chinese suppliers to push for 3-5% price increases.

“However, there’s a lot of market resistance and that could lead to some issues with quality, with factories cutting back on standards if they can’t get price rises,” said an importer. “With China, you get what you pay for.” Some gaps are reported to be opening up in Brazilian supply as demand from the US construction sector continues to grow strongly. Consequently prices are up too.

“While production has continued, Brazilian through the pandemic has been a real roller coaster,” said an importer. “At the start in March the price for standard 20mm C+/C dropped from US$230/cu.m FOB to $170 due to contraction in international demand, then dipped even lower. Now it’s back to US$250-280/cu.m and it’s mainly due to an increasingly active US market.”

Reflecting the impact of the pandemic, analysis of Eurostat’s Comext figures show total tropical hardwood imports into the EU27+UK were down 42.4% to 221,000 cu.m from January to July, compared with the same period in 2019.

Biggest falls came in imports from China, down 56.6% to 82,000 cu.m. Shipments from Indonesia were 37.1% lower at 58,000 cu.m, from Malaysia down 2.8% to 36,000 cu.m, Gabon down 23.8% to 12,000 cu.m, Brazil down 46% to 6,000 cu.m and Vietnam down 31.7% to 7,000 cu.m.

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