UK Timber Import Volumes Rise: TDUK Eyes 2024 Recovery

Timber import patterns are bucking downward trends across the UK, with all major import categories potentially growing in the next quarter.

Mon 07 Aug 23


UK import volumes for softwood, hardwood, plywood, particleboard, and mass timber products were higher than for any month in 2023, according to the latest data from the TDUK.

Softwood imports have been the primary driver of the recovery, with volumes in May 8% higher than the 2023 average.

The latest numbers readdresses a slowdown in April, where a downturn in construction activity across the UK started to impact timber import volumes.

Solid wood imports over the first five months of 2023 were 8% lower than over the same period in 2022, and imported panel products were 9% lower.

Despite reduced volumes, the monthly rate of change was significantly less volatile than the fluctuations of the last three years, suggesting a return to pre-pandemic market patterns.

In recent weeks, imports have been in the news following reports that the UK is not meeting its planting commitments.

According to TDUK’s Head of Technical and Trade, Nick Boulton, the overall economic picture in the UK is gloomy, “with sticky inflation and high-interest rates reducing confidence in the construction sector.”

However, on a more positive note, the volatility of the Covid years is behind the UK.

“It also appears the dramatic peaks and troughs of 2020-2022 have subsided. Monthly variations now seem steadier and more similar to the pre-covid years.

This is echoed in the timber price data, with timber values appearing less volatile in 2023 than in the previous two years.

According to Mr Boulton, crucial timber demand-driving sectors like private housing and RMI have impacted import numbers. 

“This is seen in the latest CPA forecast, with crucial timber demand driving sectors like private housing and RMI predicted to decline by 19% and 11% respectively, likely returning to growth in 2024.”

Could this point to a timber-led recovery across the UK?

“This slowdown, however, is likely to be temporary, with the CPA predicting RMI and private housing recovery next year,” Mr Boulton said last month.

In the first five months of 2023, import volume was 378,000 cubic metres lower, or 8% less than over the same period in 2022.

“However, in 2023, timber import patterns seem to be bucking these downward trends, with volumes witnessing growth in four of the five months this year,” Mr Boulton said.

“We may even see growth across all the major import categories, something we certainly would not have predicted at the beginning of the year.”

Members can read the complete statistics, including access to market data dashboards, through the TDUK website


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