Tropical suppliers squeezed out of the European
Tropical suppliers to Europe¡¯s wood flooring sector are
being squeezed out as domestic production in the region is
rising again, oak is becoming increasingly dominant, and
competition from laminated flooring and other non-wood
materials is mounting.
The European Federation of the Parquet Industry (FEP)
reports that European wood flooring production (not
including laminate flooring) was 78.0 million m2 in 2015,
3.6% more than in 2014.
This included gains of 2.6% to 64.0 million m2 in the 17
countries covered by FEP and 3.6% to 14.6 million m2 in
other EU countries that are not members of FEP. Despite
gains every year since 2009, production is still 20% down
on the peak of 98.3 million m2 in 2007. (Chart 1).
Amongst FEP member countries, significant production
gains were made in Sweden (+15%), Spain (+10%), and
Italy (+4%) during 2015. Production declined in Poland
and Germany and was flat in Austria, France, and
Romania. (Chart 2).
Oak-faced flooring accounted for 78% of all wood
flooring manufactured in Europe in 2015, up from 60% in
2008. The major loser has been tropical hardwood, which
has seen its share of wood flooring produced in Europe
fall from 14.7% in 2008 to only 4.5% in 2015.
In 2015, ash was the second most widely used species for
facing wood floors (5.6%), followed by beech (3.8%) and
walnut (1.4%). All other species accounted for less than
1% (Chart 3).
In 2015, multilayer parquet floors accounted for 84% of
wood floors manufactured in Europe, the majority
comprising three-layer parquet (roughly 70 % of total
market volume). Solid wood flooring accounted for only
14% of production.
The rise in European production in 2015 was stimulated
by an increase in domestic consumption. For the first time
since the onset of the global financial crisis, southern
European markets for hardwood flooring, particularly
Spain, gained momentum in 2015 and this trend continued
in the first half of 2016.
The rise in European production in 2015 was partly at the
expense of imports which lost market share during the
The EU¡¯s large trade deficit in EU wood flooring that
opened up before the financial crises, driven by the
housing bubble and a flood of product from China, has
narrowed sharply in recent years.
In 2015, EU wood flooring imports from non-EU
countries fell 5.4% to 28.17 million m2. Meanwhile EU
exports to non-EU countries fell only slightly in 2015 and
are rising again in 2016 (Chart 4).
Chinese wood flooring losing share in Europe
Imports of wood flooring from China, by far the EU¡¯s
largest single external supplier of this commodity, suffered
a set-back in the EU market in 2015 falling 7.4% to 17.3
million m2, the lowest level since 2005.
The downward trend has continued this year, with a
further 9% fall to 7.9 million m2 in the first 6 months of
2016. (Chart 5).
To some extent the decline in EU imports of wood
flooring from China in 2016 has been offset by rising
imports from other countries. However, all the gains made
in the EU market in 2016 have been by temperate
countries and no tropical country has benefited from
China¡¯s loss of market share.
In the first half of 2016, EU imports of wood flooring
were significantly higher than the same period in 2015
from Ukraine (+50% to 1.98 million m2), Switzerland
(+40% to 0.69 million m2), and Bosnia (+26% to 0.58
Imports declined from Indonesia (-8% to 0.69 million m2),
Malaysia (-19% to 0.52 million m2), Brazil (-13% to 0.32
million m2) and Vietnam (-33% to 0.18 million m2).
The destination for wood flooring imports into the EU is
also changing in 2016. Imports into the UK, the largest
destination for Chinese flooring products, declined 9% to
2.7 million m2 in the first six months of 2016.
Wood flooring imports have also weakened into the
Netherlands, Sweden and France this year. However there
has been a sharp increase in imports into Poland, the main
destination for Ukrainian flooring products (Chart 7).
Wood flooring faces stiff competition in the European
market from laminates and non-wood materials.
According to FEP ¡°it is becoming increasingly difficult for
consumers to differentiate parquet from competitive
flooring alternatives with a wood look surface.¡± Members
of the European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF)
association sold 452 million sq.m of laminate flooring in
2015, around 333 million sq.m of which was in Europe,
over four times the volume of wood-faced flooring
consumed in the region.
Competition from non-wood materials is also intense and
varies between countries. For example, the challenge
comes particularly from luxury vinyl tiles (LVT) in
Germany and from ceramic tiles in Italy.
EU wood flooring exports rising again
After five years of continuous growth between 2009 and
2014, EU wood flooring exports declined slightly in 2015,
by 1.7% to 21.1 million sq.m. However, growth resumed
in the first six months of 2016 and exports rose by 9% to
11.2 million sq.m.
The downward trend in exports to Switzerland and
Norway in 2015 was reversed in the first six months of
2016 (Chart 8).
After making significant gains in 2015, EU wood flooring
exports continued to increase rapidly to the USA (+23%)
and China (+154%) in the first six months of 2016.
However, some of the gains made by EU wood flooring
products in the Turkish and Canadian markets in 2015
were lost during the first half of 2016. Exports also
declined to Russia during the same period. (Chart 9).
In summarising their latest market statement, published in
June 2016, FEP were reasonably positive about future
prospects for Europe¡¯s wood flooring sector. They noted
that ¡°after several years of hardship for the European
Parquet Producers and the overall negative developments
in both consumption and production, the sky has cleared
EU economic indicators point towards a continuation of a
slightly positive trend and the generally encouraging
reports received from a majority of FEP member countries
fuel the hope for better times ahead¡±.
These observations clearly apply to the domestic industry
as current trade trends suggest that opportunities both for
imports of finished flooring, and for tropical materials to
supply European manufacturers may be narrowing.
However, FEP also make some observations which
suggest some potential for imported materials. FEP
observed that ¡°from previous detailed marketing surveys
conducted by FEP, we know that parquet has a very high
desirability coefficient. It is sustainable, made from a
renewable raw material and should be valued as a longterm
investment¡±. Furthermore, FEP expressed concern
about ¡°the raw material supply situation (especially for
For tropical suppliers, the combination of restricted local
availability of oak, and the strong focus on demonstrating
sustainability through commitment to FSC labelling and
FLEGT licensing, offers potential to open up new
opportunities in this market ¨C although this would require
significant commitment to market development in a very
crowded and competitive sector.