Timber prices soar, supplies short amid virus disruptions
Published: Apr 05, 2021 09:03 PM
Russian freight cars containing timber in Suifenhe, a major Chinese border city with Russia, on September 26, 2018 Photo: IC

Russian freight cars containing timber in Suifenhe, a major Chinese border city with Russia, on September 26, 2018 Photo: IC

Timber prices in China soared as imports have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put much stress on companies in the sector. But experts predicted that the situation will ease as the pandemic wanes and conditions improve.

"The COVID-19 pandemic keeps disrupting the timber sector's logistics and imports have decreased at coastal and border ports," Pan Jinzhi, a sales manager at a timber import and processing company based in Erlian, North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, focusing on importing timber from Russia, told the Global Times on Monday.

Pan, who has 20 years of experience in handling timber, said that prices of construction timber had risen from 1,500 yuan ($228.45) per cubic meter last year to 1,900 yuan in March, a new record. 

"Shortages of imported wood partly reflect the situation where Chinese workers, who'd been willing to move abroad and work long hours, can't go to work at Russian timber-processing firms due to travel restrictions," Pan added.

A Beijing-based furniture company employee surnamed Li also told the Global Times on Monday that wood prices have risen about 20 percent in the past two years, because imports were limited. Some furniture producers closed as a result, and inventories of wood furniture are high.

Several board and plank producers in East China's Shandong Province said they'll hike prices on Wednesday and Thursday due to increased costs.

China's national-level timber price index climbed from 1,177.44 in October 2020 to 1,253.93 in March this year. 

China is the world's largest importer of timber and the second-biggest timber consumer, media outlet China News reported in December. 

China imported 93.74 million cubic meters of logs and converted timber in 2020, a 2.63-percent year-on-year decrease, per released data by the General Administration of Customs.

According to Chinese customs, imported timber accounted for more than half of total consumption.

Countries including New Zealand, Russia, Germany and Australia exported more than 1 million cubic meters of logs to China in the first half of 2020, according to the Wood Value Promotion and Sustainable Development Center.

Russia is China's major timber source. China imported $2.85 billion worth of timber from Russia in 2020, followed by Thailand and the US with export values of $960 million and $779 million, respectively, according to an industry research institute. 

Moreover, China suspended import of timber from Australia's Queensland and Victoria states last October and November respectively due to pests detected in the shipments.

Industry analysts said surging sea shipping rates and unfavorable weather also contributed to the price rises.

"When the epidemic wanes and conditions improve, supplies will increase and prices will decline slightly," Ma Haibin, a vice-chairman of the China Timber and Wood Products Distribution Association's Taicang branch in East China's Jiangsu Province, told China Central Television in an interview.