Central/West Africa: Demand for sawnwood remains subdued

February 29, 2024
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Central/West African producers report international demand remains subdued. In the first nine months of 2023 the EU27 imported 607,300 cubic metres of tropical sawnwood, 14% less than the same period in 2022. Imports declined from Cameroon (-9%), Gabon (-14%), Ghana (-26%) and DRC (-4%).

In the US, imports of sawnwood in 2023 from Cameroon dropped 43% year on year with declines also recorded for imports from Rep. Congo (-23%) and Cote d’Ivoire (- 55%). See page XX In early February there were signs of an awakening in some markets. In the Middle East demand for okoume and other light coloured species has started to pick up and just before the Chinese New Year there were signs of growing buyer interest in China.

There has been a resurgence in demand in China for okoume although this is not yet reflected in export prices. Prices remain stable for now but there is an expectation that, if demand continues to rise, prices will follow suit.

Buyers in China have started to show renewed interest in ayous sawnwood which may signal a shift in market preferences and opportunities for exporters. However, China's reduced interest in ovangkol and bubinga/kevazingo is creating challenges for producers. In Gabon kevazingo stocks are said to be above average.

Demand in the Philippines is said to be quiet but entering a new phase with interest in dabema. Tali exports to Vietnam continue at around the same volumes as towards the end of last year. In 2023 tali imports into Vietnam amounted to 378,200 cu.m, worth US$154.8 million, down 32% in volume and 32% in value compared to 2022.

Sawn padouk to India

European operated mills in the region are actively processing padouk. The top grades are shipped mainly to Belgium while lower grades are directed to India. It is reported that Belgium is seeing an accumulation of stock, especially in 25mm boards and scantlings. Lower grade padouk, even with a high percentage of sapwood, is reportedly acceptable in India.

Mills build up log stocks

Harvesting in Gabon recently slowed as unexpected early rains lead to some disruption of forest operations. Cameroon's timber sector is witnessing increased harvesting activities following a challenging period marked by heavy rainfall. As the country welcomes a dry period lasting until June, log stocks at mills are being replenished as full-scale exploitation resumes.

The dry season in the northern regions of Congo adjacent to Cameroon has facilitated expanded in harvesting activities. However, the southern parts are still experiencing rain. Okoume harvesting is on the rise, but at a slower pace than late last year and it is anticipated there may be a downward pressure on ovangkol prices due to slow demand in the Chinese market.