France: Hardwood Sawmills complain of lack of oak roundwood

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At a press conference in February 6, 2018, the French Wood Federation (FNB) President, Mr. Philippe Siat, appealed directly to France's President Macron. The capacity of the 550 sawmills specialized in the processing of oak roundwood is currently at only 60% on average, although demand is booming. The weather is sharpening the latent supply crisis and threatening many family-run businesses. The federation calls for  a number of measures to limit exports of roundwood from France:

  • Expansion of the EU label to Private Forests. This label which is already being used by the ONF (State & municipal forests) limits sales of roundwood to buyers having commited to process the roundwood in Europe. 
  • Introduction of exportation quotas
  • Introduction of a register of exporters of roundwood
  • Reinforcement of the phytosanitary measures which have been introduced 2 years ago
  • Condition forest subsidies to further processing in the EU of roundwood
  • Increase of the sale via LT contracts to French industrials

The introduction of the EU label 2 years ago created tensions, as some buyers opposed a clause that obliges signatories not to export their private-oak-tree purchases to China or overseas. At the same time the regulations for the phyto-sanitary treatment of shipped overseas logs were tightened. These measures had a measurable impact in 2016 but in 2017 exports to China of oak roundwood increased again. 

The problem of rising exports to China is compounded by a decline in Oak roundwood harvest in France in 2017. Since 2007 the increase in exports to China of 500.00m3 and the decline in production of 400.000m3 has led to a reduction of 900.000m3 of available roundwood for oak sawmills in France. In the same period the number of sawmills has sharply reduced. 

The association FNB claims that the existing processors in the oak sector have invested the sum of one billion euros in the last three years. Its not clear how these investments are distributed between mills and how this will accelerate the concentration of production. 

The supply situation was considered dramatic at the press conference. According to the association, measures must be taken immediately and before the start of spring auctions in France. 

According to the FNB, an expansion of the EU label would be unproblematic in legal terms. The introduction of the label for the auctions of the state forests, however, was underpinned by an amendment to the forestry code in France. Its not clear how associations of private forest owners and of harvesters will react to this latest move of the FNB.  

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