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Hardwood market may stay soft this year

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

"This year could remain difficult, and we may see turnaround in 2010," said Michael Snow, executive director of the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), which represents US companies engaged in hardwood exports.

The US has been the largest hardwood products exporter worldwide since 1999, while China has been the largest importer during the same period. China is the largest importer 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 increased 73 percent on 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 industry is not immune to global recession. 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 experienced year-on-year growth of over 30 percent in the past.

The domestic furniture sector is also struggling with a weak property market and belt-tightening by government departments, industry officials have said.

A major challenge facing the wood industry is from alternative materials such as plastic and steel, Snow said. Wood is renewable unlike fossil fuels or mineral based products, and has the lowest energy consumption and carbon emissions of any commonly used material. Using wood products would also encourage forestry to expand.

AHEC recently released a study on the lawful harvesting and sustainability of US hardwood exports, confirming that US hardwoods are derived from legal and well-managed forests. This is important to the Chinese manufacturers and exporters of finished goods made from US hardwoods, as it demonstrates that the products are considered low-risk in markets from Japan to Europe.


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