China Gets 63% of Lumber from Russia: Can EU Producers Keep Up?

Lumber exports from the EU's largest timber economies are in decline, thanks to a shortage in biomass in the Baltic states. However, with the roll out of the Green New Deal there are concerns that European countries will not be able to balance increased harvesting with climate commitments.

Mon 22 Apr 24


Russia now accounts for 63% of all softwood lumber imports entering China’s port system – with European imports weakening amid a shortage in biomass. This year alone, Russia and Belarus have collectively accounted for 3 million cubic metres (or 70% of total imports), with Russia supplying 2.71 million and Belarus 269,000 cubic metres (a 38% increase).

Today, more than 90% of lumber produced by Russia now enters China, and of the lumber that doesn’t, much still filters into the Chinese sphere of influence. Now, new data produced by China Customs reveals that imports into the world’s largest consumer market have been in a “constant state of decline since August 2023,” with total imports down 1.8% (to 4.34 million cubic metres) for the first quarter of 2024.

Wood Central understands that this, by extension, is a direct result of a total slowdown in lumber production from Europe’s leading timber producers, including Finland (down 25% to 225,000 cubic metres for the first quarter), Germany (down 38% to 179,000), and Sweden (down 42% to 185,000).

In April 2022, the EU announced bans on Russian timber and forest-based products entering the zone from July 2022. Wood Central understands that these bans caused massive shortages in biomass entering the Baltic states, which, in turn, drove up the cost of timber production across Europe. Footage courtesy of @dwnews.

The European problem is that the ban on Russian and Belarusian imports, which came into effect in July 2022, has led to a total shortage of biomass from the Baltic states. This, in turn, caused log, pulpwood, and forest raw material costs to rise. This shortage caused a “pricing disconnect” between the price of raw materials and the price of lumber, pulp, and paper produced, ultimately causing the cost of raw materials to spike when volumes sank.

The EU are in the process of introducing the world's strongest deforestation laws. As the third largest timber market in the world, behind China and the US, it will have major implications for global supply chains for forest products. (Image Credit: Getty Images)
The EU’s “Green New Deal” could have serious implications for harvesting and softwood lumber production among some of the world’s largest timber economies – including Sweden, Finland, Germany and Norway. (Image Credit: Getty Images)

According to the Federation of Swedish Farmers, stock levels to the end of 2023 were 15% below the five-year average, driving up the cost of raw logs. This exacerbated a crunch on local saw millers already impacted by a slowing European construction market.

Further complicated matters are the compliance of timber-producing countries with the EU’s New Green Deal. Last year, Wood Central reported that Finland and Norway were pushing back against the EU’s “over-regulation” of forests, forestry, and forest products supply chains.

In a letter obtained by Wood Central, prime ministers from both countries acknowledge that “forests, forestry and its value-chain face a lot of pressure from newly negotiated EU legislation on energy, climate and the environment.”

Finland is one of the world's largest forest economies - it was also one of the heaviest hit by Russian sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine. (Photo Credit: Esa Hiltula via I Stock Images by Getty Images)
Finland is one of the world’s largest forest economies – one of Europe’s most impacted by the Green New Deal. (Photo Credit: Esa Hiltula via I Stock Images by Getty Images)

According to a study published in Nature, Climate targets in European timber-producing countries conflict with goals on forest ecosystem services and biodiversity; researchers argue that Europe’s largest timber producers cannot balance harvest demands with ambitious climate targets – as outlined in the EU’s Forest Strategy.

“Our research shows that the key European timber-producing countries—Finland, Sweden, and Germany (Bavaria)—cannot fulfil the increased harvest demands linked to the ambitious 1.5°C target,” the researchers said, adding that “potential for harvest increase only exists in Norway.”

“The three major production regions (Sweden, Finland and Germany) were not able to mobilize enough resources to meet the EU’s climate change mitigation targets,” they said while meeting harvesting targets outlined in EU-approved Forest Plans.

To learn more about China and its role in the global forest economy, visit Wood Central’s exclusive interviews with the authors of China—Forest, Log & Lumber Outlook. The interviews include:


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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