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01 – 15th Jan 2024

Report from Europe  

 In late 2023 ITTO correspondents had the opportunity to
interact with executives from some large European timber
companies. The comments below provide an outlook on
prospects and challenges from the perspective of these

Tropical timber companies see good potential in

Interviews by ITTO correspondents in the closing weeks
of 2023 with two of Europe’s leading tropical hardwood
trading companies, Vandecasteele and Interholco,
highlight the significant challenges brought on by slow
growth and tightening environmental regulations.
However, both see long-term potential in the European
market for tropical wood, particularly for value-added
products drawing on strong technical performance and
environmental credentials.

The interviews highlighted that today’s European tropical
timber trade is a demanding environment. Sales are
significantly down over the last 18 months and prices have
followed. New moves on the timber sector’s sustainability
performance are set to add to the pressures. A further
batch of actively traded tropical species are being listed in
Appendix II of CITES, some controversially. Trading
these timbers will require added evidence of responsible

Then there’s the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR)
coming into force on 30 December 2024. This requires
proof that ‘so-called’ Forest and Eco-System Risk
Commodities (FERCs), including timber and wood
products are not implicated in deforestation or the more
nebulous forest degradation.

Proof includes provision of geolocation co-ordinates with
each consignment placed on the EU market for the ‘plot of
lands’ where commodities originate. Belgian-based
international timber trader Vandecasteele does not
downplay the market challenges.

However, the company does see the commercial situation
changing and also ultimately the tropical sector benefiting
from regulatory developments that, it believes, will add to
the trade’s sustainability assurance in an increasingly
environmentally aware market.

Export manager Geneviève Standaert acknowledges that,
after two exceptional years from 2020 to 2022, the
squeeze in the tropical timber market has been significant.
“Over the last year demand has been weak, there’s been
less volume and consequently prices have dropped,” she

However, she feels a corner is being turned. “Even if
demand does not come back immediately, we expect
prices are now at their lowest level as suppliers have
diminished production volumes and offers are scarce.”

She added that Vandecasteele has also been looking to
strengthen its commercial position, while at the same time
further underpinning its sustainability credentials, by
developing its tropical offer. For instance, it is looking to
add more secondary species to its stock. This is seen as not
only diversifying its range, but making environmental
certification more viable for the long-term, as more
secondary species sales mean more income for forest
managers from a given certified area.

“When a supplier goes for certification, they make a very
serious investment in the future management of the forest,
not just economically, but in maintaining the forest as
forest 20, 30 or 40 years ahead, and even longer,” said Ms.
Standaert. The company has additionally set itself the
objective of becoming the ‘European ambassador for
sustainable timber’, with a target date of 2025 to be
trading only in certified timber.

“We are on track for our goal,” said Ms Standaert. “We
are continuously supporting suppliers towards this
transition by investing in external auditing and buying a
full range of species and dimensions. In Brazil, for
example, the volume of certified timber is continuously
growing and our own forest engineer provides training in
the field for suppliers in transition or wanting to switch
towards certification in the near future. We also
participate in webinars and presentations on the topic, such
as the FSC event in Belem in last November, which was a
perfect occasion to lead our suppliers towards

The company is also seeing a ‘shift in demand’ among
customers, ‘not necessarily for certified timber, but
certainly for third party-verified’.

In 2023 the African species padouk, khaya and doussie,
joined others such as afrormosia in being listed in CITES
Appendix II, although a leading authority on the topic of
endangered species, the Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech faculty
at the University of Liège, said this was not justified in the
case of padouk and doussie.

In 2024, ipe and cumaru will follow. Given other
availability issues with varieties such as doussie, the new
CITES listings and their labelling of these species as
‘endangered’ – even though listing is not a bar to trading
in them – could be a demand- reducing ‘game changer’,
thinks Vandecasteele.

As for the EUDR, the company says it has adapted
procedures to meet the requirements, although much of the
detail is yet to be clarified. Besides demanding proof that
FERC supply is not causing deforestation or forest
degradation, under the regulation supplier countries will
be benchmarked as high, standard, and low risk.

This will dictate the level of scrutiny by EU regulators of
companies that place affected goods on the EU market.

“The text of the law is ready, but we understand the
practical guidelines may not be available until December
2024 when the new legislation will be enforced,” said Ms

“So we will have to wait and see what is required in day-
to-day business in terms of such areas as customs clearing
and training, including how we submit geolocation
information, although there is now a pilot EUDR data
platform which 100 European companies are now

“Tropical suppliers are certainly concerned about the
EUDR and, given that the EU is still deciding on the
requirements, fear that they will not have enough time to
adapt,” said Ms Standaert. “Each time a supplier visits our
company, the Regulation is a very important part of the

The geolocation requirement is a particular concern. The
‘plots of land’ for which the EUDR demands geolocation
coordinates will be wide ranging. A ‘plot’ is defined as
‘land within a single real estate property’, so could be just
a few hectares, or tens of thousands.

“The EU has not yet defined the exact form in which this
[geolocation] data is to be supplied and the platform being
developed for it is not ready,” said Ms Standaert. “This is
a very big concern both for us buyers and our suppliers. In
principle, they all want to meet the requirements and
continue to do business with Europe. They just need to
know how to comply.”

When the EU Timber Regulation came into force in 2013
it is reported to have reduced the pool of tropical suppliers
available to the EU timber trade. But Vandecasteele
believes that this experience, resulting in closer
relationships between buyer and remaining suppliers,
leaves it well-placed to deal with EUDR.

Vandecasteele maintains that, while Brexit may have
happened, the UK will not be immune from the impacts of
the EUDR. “Even if the UK is not supporting the
Regulation, its suppliers will still need to meet it as they’re
probably unlikely to want to adjust their trading operations
for the UK market,” said Ms Standaert.

“And for exports to the EU, UK companies will need to
meet all EUDR requirements, for starters to pass through
customs. Ultimately whey will have to comply to the same
level as their EU counterparts.”

To aid EUDR compliance, Vandecasteele says gap
analysis between the legal requirements and those of
certification systems, such FSC, PEFC, OLB, Legal
Source and TLV, would be a great help. It would clarify
what additional actions businesses must undertake over
and above those needed to comply with these schemes.

But ultimately Vandecasteele feels the EUDR will be a
positive development for the tropical timber trade. It says
it will underline that timber production from sustainably
managed tropical forests is the best guarantee of
maintaining them as forests, disincentivizing their
clearance to make way for agro commodities.

“We hope that finally the real causes of deforestation will
become visible under the EUDR, and people will see that
timber is the one commodity affected which can be
guaranteed as not implicated in deforestation or forest
degradation,” said Ms Standaert. “It should show that
sustainable forest management is the best solution for
maintaining tropical forest. The phrase use it or lose it still

Investing in engineered products following Congo log
export ban
Against the backdrop of a tighter, more competitive,
market the Swiss-based international tropical timber
supplier Interholco has had to contend with the log export
ban in the Republic of Congo where its subsidiary IFO has
its mill and manufacturing plant and manages 1.1 million
ha of forest.

The ban has added impetus to Interholco’s efforts to
develop added value engineered product capability,
including in lesser-known timber species. Interholco is
now entering phase one of a major capital investment
programme to develop IFO’s facilities at Ouesso in the
northern Republic of the Congo and further future proof
the wider business. The work will run through most of this

“Sometimes it’s felt like we’ve been running around like
headless chickens! But we’re on track and entering an
exciting period,” said

Vice President Production and Sales, Christophe Janssen,
acknowledged that trade has become more challenging.
“Last year the market was very good, our order books
were full 12 months ahead,” he said. “But, with the
Ukraine crisis and resulting inflation and high interest
rates, consumers have lost confidence and we’ve been
affected in many markets. The US remains busy, and
we’re still selling well in certain EU markets, notably
Belgium and the Netherlands.

But elsewhere in Europe it’s more difficult due to
economic pressures, particularly in the property sector. In
France for instance, mortgage approvals are reported down
40-50% this year, and they’re lower in Germany too.”

The UK market has also been challenging. “It has the
same economic issues as the rest of Europe, but with
Brexit making business even more complicated,” said Mr
Janssen. He added that, while it’s not a key market for
Interholco, China has remained quiet since the relaxation
of Covid restrictions. “The Middle East has been less
busy too, despite the price of oil, and there’s been a big
slowdown in the Vietnamese market,” he said.

The Republic of Congo log export ban, implemented in
January 2023, has also impacted business. “Losing that
part of our turnover means we have to reorganize and
become more focused on value added production,” said
Mr Janssen. “Making it more challenging was that the
government allowed little time to adapt.”

Despite the wider market climate, however, Interholco has
not curtailed production. The company also now sees
glimmers of economic light. “We’re seeing inflation
coming down and interest rates stabilizing in an increasing
number of countries and there’s a feeling markets are
getting use to or factoring in the Ukraine situation,” said
Mr Janssen. “Interholco is also adapting successfully.
We’re focusing more on kiln-dried lumber where there’s
less competition and better prices than in standard,

The company is confident of a bright future in these
engineered components, with customers increasingly won
over by their technical benefits. “Demand for scantlings is
increasing and end users who switch to them are very
happy with the results,” said Mr Janssen. “They’re stable,
predictable and enable manufacturers to calculate their
yield and costs in a way that’s just not possible with rough
lumber. They can also have longer lengths on a consistent
basis – we supply everything in 5.9m.”

These products also provide a route for Interholco to
introduce more lesser-known tropical timber, use of which
reduces supply stress on traditionally more popular
species. Some also see it as making sustainable forest
management more economically viable, in that it increases
timber yield from a given forest area.

“Customers who buy our scantlings are more concerned
with technical performance and yield and less concerned
with species and show interest in timbers such as kosipo,
sapelli, sipo, bosse, limbali and kanda and we’re doing
further tests with tali and wenge.”

One market proving more resistant to the value-added
trend in tropical timber seems to be the UK. “Overall it
seems more conservative and species focused. Potential
customers also comment on the higher initial price,” said
Mr Janssen. “However, we have been getting enquiries
and, while it may take time, we’re confident demand will

It has to be the way forward if joinery end users want to
control costs and compete in terms of technical
performance predictability with materials like pvc and

Interholco is a long-term adherent of FSC certification,
100% of timber from its own concessions are FSC
certified and 88% of that from outside sources and in
March it gained FSC Eco-systems certification for
biodiversity protection. This year it has also been
undergoing accreditation to the PEFC-endorsed Pan
African Forest Certification scheme.

Since 2017, the company has also been engaged with the
Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) international
SPOTT analysis programme. Each year this assesses 100
tropical forestry, palm oil and natural rubber companies on
public disclosure of ‘policies and practices related to
environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues’.

“SPOTT scores companies against sector-specific ESG
indicators to benchmark progress and, by tracking
transparency, incentivises implementation of corporate
best practice,” says ZSL. “Investors, buyers and other key
influencers can use SPOTT assessments to inform
stakeholder engagement, manage ESG risk, and increase
transparency across multiple industries.”

This August, for the seventh year in a row, Interholco was
ranked first of the 100 companies involved, scoring 95.2%
in assessment against 150 indicators.

“Spott does not solely rely on commitments or policies,
but also looks at progress and implementation on the
ground,” says Interholco. “The SPOTT team also
comprises actual people with proven expertise and
analytical finesse. It is not an AI-compiled scorecard.” The
company has become more attuned to the SPOTT process
with time, but initially found it ‘pretty demanding’.

Interholco is also confident it can rise to the challenge of
EUDR. “We’re confident we can meet all requirements,
including for geolocation details for timber origin, having
the advantage that most of our timber comes from our own
concession,” said Mr Janssen.

“Some of the details of implementation are still unknown,
such as how the European portal for uploading due
diligence information will operate, whether we can give
plot information annually, or have to provide it on each
invoice. But we don’t foresee problems.”

Interholco is also optimistic about prospects for the
business as a whole. “Short term it may be more
challenging given the state of the market and the
development work we’re undertaking,” said Mr Janssen.
“But we’re confident wood demand will continue
increasing and that, with the investment we’re putting in
place and our commitments to sustainability, we will be
well placed to benefit.”


LM       Loyale Merchant, a grade of log parcel  Cu.m         Cubic Metre
QS        Qualite Superieure    Koku         0.278 Cu.m or 120BF
CI          Choix Industriel                                                       FFR           French Franc
CE         Choix Economique                                                        SQ              Sawmill Quality
CS         Choix Supplimentaire      SSQ            Select Sawmill Quality
FOB      Free-on-Board     FAS            Sawnwood Grade First and
KD        Kiln Dry                               Second 
AD        Air Dry        WBP           Water and Boil Proof
Boule    A Log Sawn Through and Through MR              Moisture Resistant
              the boards from one log are bundled                      pc         per piece      
              together                      ea                each      
BB/CC  Grade B faced and Grade C backed MBF           1000 Board Feet          
              Plywood   MDF           Medium Density Fibreboard
BF        Board Foot F.CFA         CFA Franc        
Sq.Ft     Square Foot              Price has moved up or down

Source:ITTO'  Tropical Timber Market Report