28 March 2022

How the invasion of Ukraine will affect the supply of timber into the UK

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Even after a record year in 2021 where the volume of timber imports has nearly reached 11.7 million m3  -  a volume not seen since 2007 - supply is under some threat, both from old challenges and new.

 

Reflecting on 2021, for the first time in my memory we saw timber nearly cleared off the shelves of all merchants. Stories abound of builders’ apprentices driving hours looking to find supplies at whichever merchant they could get to first over summer.

 

This can be seen in the BMBI index, where growth in demand for timber and joinery products peaked at just under 200% over June and July.

 

This all put significant pressure on price throughout 2021, forcing some specific products like structural softwood, OSB and US hardwoods to levels we had not seen previously. While we have seen the prices of those products mostly stabilising since Q4 2021, with much less upwards pressure on price. However, this may yet change.

 

Many of these issues we identified last year, such as the shortage of HGV drivers, and inflationary factors including labour, are set to persist - or even intensify - over the course of 2022. Now these factors have been joined by a new and even more concerning development with the war in Ukraine, and the ensuing sanctions against Russia and Belarus.

 

In our recent Market Statement, we identified some specific product areas which would be directly impacted, including Siberian Larch, a common timber used in cladding, and especially concerning, on Birch Plywood and Oak, which are important for joinery and interior finishes. We are working with our members to identify mitigation measures and alternative products.

 

Yet against this backdrop, as always the future of timber is strong. Wood and wood products are inherently sustainable and deliver value beyond simply their price. Customers want to see and feel the beauty of wood, and know that they are helping to build a more sustainable, low-carbon future with their design choices. As the only mainstream low-carbon construction product, timber will be central to achieving net zero in construction.

 

It is also worth remembering, the difficulties which will be faced in the construction industry, with these sanctions also biting heavy for carbon-intensive and energy hungry products such as steel or cement, are nothing compared to what is being faced by the Ukranian people. As our chief executive David Hopkins wrote on 8 March, “ceasing trade during an illegal invasion seems a small price to pay compared to the horrors being experienced by the Ukrainian people”.

 

You can read and download the Timber Development UK Market Statement – Supply, Demand and Price – on the Timber Trade Federation website here.