US Drops Russian Plywood as China Fuels Middle East Boom

The world's largest plywood producer is expanding into the Middle East with Saudi Arabia and UAE imports tripling over the past 12 months.

Wed 10 Apr 24


Russian plywood exports to the United States—a crucial part of its US $2 billion log trade —are now in freefall, with the US Department of Agriculture reporting that trade sank more than 86% in February.

Timber now accounts for more than 50% of trade between the United States and Russia – with several ENGOs speculating that the United States’ reluctance to follow the EU and UK in enforcing strict sanctions on timber is inadvertently fueling Putin’s new offensive in Ukraine.

And whilst the Biden administration did not follow the EU, UK, and more than 130 ENGOs in imposing sanctions on Russian timber, new figures show that Russian plywood entering the US dropped from 9,400 cubic metres in January to just 1,400 cubic metres in February— a drop from 9,500 cubic metres in February 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Alexey Mordashov, Russia's richest man, who has profiteered off selling plywood into the North American market. (Photo Credit: Wiki Commons, under Creative Commons)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Alexey Mordashov, Russia’s richest man, who has profiteered off selling plywood into the North American market. (Photo Credit: Wiki Commons, under Creative Commons)

At the same time, the total volume of United States plywood imports grew 32% to 333,000 cubic metres, driven by a surge in plywood coming from Vietnam (19.7%, or 65,600 cubic metres), Brazil (18.3%), Chile (12.5%), Indonesia (12.5%), ahead of Canda (10.9%) and China (5.5%).

It comes as Russian producers are now suffering from a “timber squeeze” with manufacturers running out of logs to process to meet demand through “friendly” Eurasian markets. 

And whilst production has grown 5% to meet demand, commercial logging in Russian forests has fallen by 26%—compounded by overcutting forests, poor forest management, and a lack of investment in new equipment.

According to new figures produced by China Customs, Russia now supplies up to 1 million cubic metres of lumber for Chinese manufacturers every month— accounting for 90% of timber exported from the Putin-controlled state.

Earlier this week, the developers behind NEOM released plans for "Zardun" the world's largest ecotourism destination located on the Red Sea. (Photo Credit: NEOM)
Saudi Arabia’s gigacity, the NEOM, which is understood to now be scaled back, is behind the surge in plywood entering the Middle East from China (Photo Credit: NEOM)

China remains the dominant engineroom for wooden furniture and plywood production, with exports surging 69% and 24% in February.

The largest markets for Chinese timber furniture are the US (29.3%), the UK (8.1%), and Australia (6%), with Germany (5.8%), Japan (5.7%) and the Netherlands (5.1%) closely behind.

While Saudi Arabia (11.2% or 74,500 cubic metres)—home to the NEOM Gigacity—is the largest export market for plywood production, the United Arab Emirates (10.4%) and Nigeria (6.6%), pipping the UK (5.4%).


  • 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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