Russia’s Timber Volume Drops as Chinese Demand Plummets

Drop in Chinese demand for processed logs has slowed Russian timber harvesting to a crawl.

Fri 04 Aug 23


Russia’s timber production volume fell 5.4% during the first half of 2023 as the world’s most forested country grapples with sanctions.

According to data obtained from Russian data agency Rosstat, a 35% slowdown in Chinese demand for processed logs has slowed Russian timber harvesting to a crawl.

In May, Wood Central reported that the foreign trade of Russian timber plunged 20% to 4.5 million cubic meters during the first quarter of 2023.

Up to the end of 2022, China imported 13 million cubic metres of Russian timber. Uzbekistan, the second largest buyer of Russian timber, imported 1.9 million cubic meters of sawn timber.

The drop came after the EU introduced sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine. The EU had previously been amongst the largest importers of Russian timber.

Impact of sanctions on Russian and Belarussian timber

In 2022, PEFC and FSC suspended Russian and Belarussian certificates – making it impossible for Russian and Belarussian timber to carry PEFC and/or FSC claims in the global market.

In the case of FSC, the decision to suspend Russia and Belarus resulted in the total supply of FSC-certified forests contracting by almost 35% since March 2022.

For PEFC, the number is around 15%.

Russia was the world’s largest softwood export market before the Ukraine invasion, with more than 20m hectares of Russian forest area dual-certified by FSC and PEFC.

This represents almost 25% of the world’s dual-certified forest area – with more than 20,000 Chinese FSC or PEFC certificates potentially exposed to Russian timber. 

Yesterday Wood Central spoke to key figures connected to forest certification.

With multiple reports of Russian and Belarussian timber entering global markets via China, “the key is to vigilant with the FSC and PEFC formal claims process.”

“This means checking your supply chain and ensuring they have the correct claim on the packaging, invoice or delivery docket.”

There are two global forest certification schemes – PEFC and FSC. Footage courtesy of @Scsglobalservices.
Russia’s reliance on Chinese supply chains for export

More than 83% of Russia’s timber export goes through Chinese supply chains, sparking fears that Russian timber is entering global supply chains via Turkey, Kazakhstan and China.

As the “no limits” partnership between Russia and China deepens, there’s no better example of the countries’ bond than along their 2,600-mile shared border. Footage courtesy of @NBCNews.

Russian export of unprocessed timber saw a staggering decline during the first six months of 2023. 

The volume of exported unprocessed timber dropped from 2.5 million cubic metres in the first half of 2022 to just 1.18 million cubic metres.

Besides China, most Russian logs are exported to a block o nine countries, including Kazakhstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan.

Logs from Russia stacked outside Manzhouli, a Chinese border town, where the wood is processed and then shipped throughout the country and the world. China now makes up more than 60% of Russia's global trade. (Photo Credit: Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times in 2021 taken before the Ukraine War)
Logs from Russia are stacked outside Manzhouli, a Chinese border town, where the wood is processed and shipped throughout the country and the world. China now makes up more than 80% of Russia’s global trade. (Photo Credit: Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times in 2021, taken before the Ukraine War).

The exports of logs to China saw a sharp contraction, with reports that China is experiencing major economic headwinds.

Last week the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics reported that China’s GDP for April-June was 6.3%, lower than the economists’ forecast of 7.3% in a Reuters survey.

China’s real estate prices have been in freefall for more than 18 months. The slowdown in Chinese timber consumption has been connected to real estate development. (Source: National Bureau of Statistics in China).

According to Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, there are fears that China could be heading for a 1990s Japan-type stagnation.

The volume of log exports dropped by 32.2% year-on-year, now standing at 958,000 cubic metres.

The value of these exports followed a similar trend, decreasing by 34.8% to USD 118.5 million.

Western companies leave a hole in Russia’s production capacity

In January, Wood Resources International reported that the decision by Western companies to leave the Russian market would lead to a drop in production.

Western companies began to exit from Russian assets immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The exodus from Russia was associated not only with political but also with economic reasons.

As a result of the sanctions, Russian factories that supplied products to Western markets found themselves without sales.

Western companies began a fire sale of Russian forest assets immediately after the invasion of Ukraine.

Ikea, Metsä Group, Stora Enso, Krono Group, Egger, Mayr-Melnhof Holz and Kronospanhave exited from Russian assets during the first half of 2023.

This leaves the Russian industry especially vulnerable to a contraction in China’s economy.

Chinese downturn is having a major impact on Russia’s production levels

Without sales to Europe, sawmills in North-West of Russia rushed to serve the Chinese market, where they faced competition from Siberian and Far Eastern sawmills.

The Chinese downturn affected the production of windows and wooden frames, which witnessed a sharp decline of 29.2%, with the output reaching 152 thousand square metres in the first half of 2023. 

Similarly, the production of doors, wooden frames and thresholds also experienced a slight decrease of 0.4%, amounting to 10.4 million square metres.

Crisis looms over Russian pulp and paper industry amidst sanctions and plummeting Chinese demand. (Photo Credit: Deposit Photos)
As reported on Monday, the Russian pulp and paper industry also suffers from sanctions and plummeting Chinese demand. (Photo Credit: Deposit Photos)
Production volumes in steep decline as domestic consumption drops

Production volumes have been in freefall, with Rosstat reporting that plywood production fell 41.3% in January 2023 after dropping to a decade low of 3.241 cubic metres at the end of 2022.

Russian plywood production between 2012 and 2022. The numbers for 2023 have plummeted, with a 41.3% drop in plywood production reported in January 2023.

According to the latest data, the total volume of harvest for the first six months was 64.5 million cubic metres.

The harvesting of softwood logs amounted to 40.2 million cubic metres, reflecting a 5% reduction, while hardwood log harvesting decreased by 5.4% to 19.1 million cubic metres. 

The harvesting of fuelwood experienced the sharpest decline, dropping to 5.2 million cubic metres, an 8.8% decrease from the previous year.

According to Lesprom Analytics, the average price of logs recorded a 3.8% slide to USD 123.9 per cubic metre.

Belarus witnessed a severe decline, with a threefold decrease in unprocessed timber imports from Russia. 

Uzbekistan also recorded a significant downturn of 1.8 times, and Tajikistan experienced a 1.5 times reduction in its imports.


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    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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