On the 5th and 6th October 2017 the 65th edition of the International Softwood Conference was held in the facilities of the hotel Sofitel Hamburg Alter Wall. This year's conference was attended by about 150 participants from all over the world and it was hosted by the GD Holz/German Timber Trade Federation, and, as usual, by the European Organization of the Sawmill Industries (EOS) and the European Timber Trade Federation (ETTF).

Hamburg, 6th October – The Conference opened with the traditional market analyses provided by authoritative experts in the sector. The development of production and consumption suggests that the moderate growth which was observed in 2017 is expected to continue into 2018.

In Europe the situation can be described as positive with most markets on the rise. Mr Andreas von Möller, President of ETTF, provided a comprehensive overview of the construction activity in Europe, showing that the confidence index is going up and the production index has reached the highest levels since 2010. The European markets are solid and reliable: Mr Sampsa Auvinen, President of EOS, underlined in his presentation that the European demand is expected to continue to increase. A buoyant construction activity, along with a growing awareness of the benefits of using wood in construction, is indeed pushing up European demand to the highest levels of this decade.

While the European markets remain the traditional destination of European production, a promising trend is the increasingly important role played by extra-European exports for the European industry. The area of the world which stands out is East Asia, particularly China, which is booming. Japan as well remains an important export destination for many European sawmills. The US market is also dynamic as housing starts reached their highest level for some years. Therefore, the picture at global level is quite rosy. The long-term potential of the market is impressive as per capita consumption in some of the fastest growing countries in the world is still very low compared to North America and North European countries.

However, a possible source of instability is the British market. The uncertainty around Brexit could take its toll on the British economy, which could result in decreasing import volumes. But stakeholders emphasized that the high demand of other regions would be able to make up for a possible drop of exports to the UK. Another important challenge is connected to raw material availability: in the medium-term there could be some more significant shortages which could negatively impact on the industry. Raw material mobilization will thus play an increasingly relevant role. These themes were thoroughly discussed also during the panel discussion in which high-level stakeholders coming from different countries – such as Denmark, Austria, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Latvia – also emphasized the growing importance of education: the enormous potential of wood in construction will be fully tapped if awareness of the properties of timber will be spread among architects and builders. To this end, targeted promotional campaigns are important.

In sum, the moderate economic growth which is taking place in Europe is expected to continue into 2018 and will have a positive impact on the timber market in the EU. Dynamic export markets are also a cause for optimism. However, the industry needs to remain vigilant in a competitive landscape characterized by growing complexity.

The next edition of the International Softwood conference will take place in Latvia’s capital Riga in October 2018. For more information and to download the 2017 ISC presentations please visit the website http://www.ettf.info/ISC2017. The International Hardwood conference will take place in Italy, Venice, on the 15th – 16th of November 2017.

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