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Hardwood market is suffering

CHINA'S hardwood market could remain weak this year as the global crisis curbs demand for furniture, an international trade association in the United States told Shanghai Daily.

"This year could remain difficult, but we may see a turnaround in 2010," said Michael Snow, executive director of the American Hardwood Export Council, which represents more than 100 US hardwood exporters.

The US has been the largest hardwood exporter worldwide since 1999, while China the largest importer during the same period. China is the largest buyer of US hardwood by volume.

On a value basis, total hardwood exports by AHEC members fell 15 percent to China and dropped 30 percent to Europe last year.

In January, US lumber exports to China rose 73 percent from December, but were still down 6 percent from a year earlier, Snow said. Lumber exports accounted for nearly half of all US hardwood products.

China's furniture exports rose 16.9 percent to US$27.2 billion in 2008 while imports increased 10.3 percent to US$1.18 billion, according to customs data. Exports and imports had been experiencing year-on-year growth of over 30 percent in recent years.

Domestically, the furniture market has to struggle with a weak property market, officials said.

AHEC recently released a study of the assessment of lawful harvesting and the sustainability of US hardwood exports, confirming that US hardwoods derive from legal and well-managed forests. This will prove important to Chinese manufacturers and exporters of finished goods made from US hardwood, proving their credentials for heavily legislated markets such as Japan and Europe.

A key challenge facing the wood industry is from alternative materials such as plastics and steel, Snow said.

Wood is renewable, unlike fossil-fuel or mineral-based products, and has the lowest energy consumption and carbon emissions among commonly used materials.


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