Russia’s #3: Why Japan is Big Business for Timber Traders

The EU is targeting Japanese trade with Putin-aligned lumber and mass timber traders amid a global crackdown on Russian conflict timber.

Fri 31 May 24


Japan is one of Russia’s most lucrative export markets for “conflict timber”, with more than 165,200 cubic metres of lumber entering Japanese ports this year alone – up from 149,100 cubic metres last year.

That is according to new data produced by Japan’s Ministry of Finance, which reports that Japan took 49,400 cubic metres of Russian lumber for April alone – a 16,000 cubic metre increase on April 2023.

Behind China and Uzbekistan, Japan is Russia’s top export market for lumber. Despite a raft of Western countries introducing heavy sanctions on Russian imports—including the EU and UK—Japan still accounts for 13% of glulam produced by Putin-connected mills.

Japan is the world’s fourth-largest importer of timber products—only behind China, the United States, and the European Union—and Global Witness has reported extensively on Japanese reliance on Russian pine.

Japan now makes up 13% of Russia's lumber and mass timber trade, with European sawmillers now urging the EU to push Japan to end the multi-million-dollar trade. (Photo Credit: Alexego01 under Creative Commons)
Japan now makes up 13% of Russia’s lumber and mass timber trade, with European sawmillers now urging the EU to push Japan to end the multi-million-dollar trade. (Photo Credit: Alexego01 under Creative Commons)

Now, according to the Ministry of Finance, Russia is Japan’s fourth-largest import market for timber – behind Canada (300,600 cubic metres for the year) and two of Europe’s largest producers of lumber – Sweden (227,100 cubic metres) and Finland (206,700 cubic metres).

The new data come after the European Organization of the Sawmill Industry (EOS) and the European Confederation of Woodworking Industries (CEI-Bois) sent an open letter to the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis in March, urging the European Union to push the Japanese for a total ban on Russian timber.

In the letter, they state that “a concerted effort to persuade Japan to stop importing Russian lumber would be a significant step in further impacting the Russian economy and its war machine,” adding that “our trade posture towards Russia, and sanctions in particular, should be coordinated and coherent among the coalition of countries that have decided to punish Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, and barbaric invasion of Ukraine.”

“Until 2021, the European Union imported significant quantities of wood products from Russia (and Belarus), much more than what Japan is currently importing, even in proportion to the larger EU population and economy,” it continued.  “As an industry and a society, we should be proud that in some months, we were able to give up importing Russian wood products, swiftly readjusting and adapting to the new reality.”

Vladimir Putin and Alexey Mordashov 2018 02 21 fotor 20240223135821 1024x632.jpg 2
In April, Wood Central reported that Alexey Mordashov (right), Russia’s richest man, profited from selling plywood into the global timber markets – including Japan (Photo Credit: Wiki Commons, under Creative Commons)

Japan, like the United States and Australia, has some of the softest compliance actions against Russian timber. These countries did not follow the UK, EU, and more than 130 global ENGOs in introducing a sanction on all timber imports after the Ukrainian Parliament asked all “friendly countries to sanction Russian timber.”

In March, a group of Ukrainian ENGOs wrote to Brian Nelson, the US Department of Treasury Under Secretary for Counter Terrorism and Financial Crimes, stating that the Russian military “directly controls an area of forest twice the size of New Jersey,” with the army profiting from the sale of timber transported from Russia through Eurasia.

For what it’s worth, Japanese lumber imports in April increased 41% year-on-year to 344,000 cubic metres, with the Japanese uptake coinciding with new reforms to incentivise timber-led construction.


  • 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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