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Engineered Wood Product imports: a conflicted and current topic

The following content was prepared by IndustryEdge and supplied to its subscribers in late August

Australia’s imports of engineered wood products were valued at AUD170.9 million for the first half of 2022. Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) accounted for 38% of the total and for most of the additional 32% described as ‘Other’ engineered wood products. Almost all the value was in softwood LVL, originating in China and the Russian Federation.

As the months progressed, engineered wood product import values rose sharply higher, peaking in May 2022 at AUD36.6 million. June was similar, but modestly lower. The product delivering the significant growth has been LVL and to a lesser extent, some of the joist products, like I-Beams.

Importantly, for an industry struggling with supply challenges, the value of engineered wood product imports is pause for reflection. The simple reality is Australia currently relies on imports to meet the market’s demand for wooden posts and beams. That reliance is evident across all the products detailed below, but nowhere more so than for LVL, where we estimate as much as 80% of supply is imported.

Wood Market Edge online subscribers can click here to login to their subscription, download and interrogate the data in detail, which includes cubic and square metre data for some products.

Australian EWP Imports by Main Type: 1H22 (AUD million)

Source: ABS derived and IndustryEdge

Product AUD Million
CLT 6.8
GLT 20.5
I-Beams 24.4
LVL Hardwood (Tropical) 0.9
LVL Hardwood 11.9
LVL Softwood 52.1
Other 54.4
Total 170.9

 

It is always of concern when import reliance is very extensive. It is even more the case when the imports are from countries where supply is challenging, to put it mildly.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of EWP imports are delivered from just two countries. China (30%) and Russia (21%) dominated Australia’s EWP imports by value over the first half of 2022. We can expect the Russian supply to unwind fairly quickly, thanks to its war on Ukraine and the declaration its supply is ‘conflict wood’. That situation is unlikely to change in the near term.

Chinese supply will continue into the second half of the year, supplemented by an expanding supply from the USA. The chart here shows the value of engineered wood product imports, by country.

Australian EWP Imports by Country: 1H22 (AUD million)

Source: ABS derived and IndustryEdge

The value of EWP imports is significant in its own right, however, the immediate interest should be on the extent to which the integrity of the domestic construction supply chain is dependent on imports that are fragile and not especially reliable. There is no doubt Australia needs imports of products it does not make, of which it makes an insufficient volume and for efficiency purposes.

As a distant nation, labouring under a perpetual ‘tyranny of distance’, the current situation with EWP imports demonstrates the risks of over-reliance on those imports. Little wonder there are vigorous and renewed efforts to produce more EWPs in Australia, and to secure more reliable supply lines.

Posted Date: October 27, 2022

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