Over 200 international softwood producers, traders and their customers from across the supply chain gathered in London for the Timber Trade Federation’s annual UK Softwood Conference earlier this month.
Speakers from Setra Group, James Jones & Sons, Glennon Brothers and the Construction Products Association were among the industry leaders discussing the intertwined nature of the global and UK softwood markets. All forecast low growth for 2019, offset slightly by potentially more stable pricing subject to the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
Delegates were warned of the potential effects of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit on the value of Sterling and on supply chain disruption. Both factors would adversely affect business in an industry where the vast majority of wood used for new-build housing is imported from Europe.
David Hopkins, managing director of the Timber Trade Federation, said: “No- one can deny that Brexit has already begun to reduce confidence in the marketplace, and that any disruption to supply chains will have a serious impact on our industry’s ability to supply the materials to Keep Britain Building. The smooth flow of imported timber into the UK is therefore essential for the construction industry to function normally.”
Speakers focused on growth figures for softwood imports, consumption and housing starts averaging between 1-2%. The close correlation between UK GDP and the value of softwood imports continues to highlight the timber industry’s inherent connection to the economic health of the nation.
However, 2019 growth in the repair, maintenance & improvement (RMI) sector – the largest market sector for softwood in the UK – is forecast to be zero, as consumer and business confidence is weakened further by Brexit uncertainties.
Factors further afield affecting the pricing and availability of softwood in the UK include strong and stable demand across the EU; a slowing of economic growth in China combined with an increased interest in building with wood to combat climate change, plus a slow yet steady growth in USA housing starts which is drawing in imports from EU producers.
The UK Softwood Conference 2019 also celebrated International Women’s Day (Friday March 8th) and celebrated diversity through a presentation and the launch of the book ‘Lumberjills: Britain’s Forgotten Army’ by Joanna Foat. The Lumberjills carried out the arduous tasks of felling, shedding, loading lorries and sawmilling timber all over the UK during World War II.