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[May 9, 2024]

According to the report from trade body Timber Development UK (TDUK), the imports or main products groups are up by just 0.2% in the first two months of 2024, compared to the same period in 2023.

Overall, however, volumes remain subdued in line with weaker construction output ¨C particularly house-building ¨C and a generally lacklustre economy.

Softwood, hardwood, particleboard and MDF all experienced lower import volumes compared to the first two months of 2023, whereas plywood, OSB and engineered wood products are currently ahead of last year. Solid wood imports were 2% lower than in the first two months of 2023, while imports of panel products were nearly 5% higher, largely due to big increases in imported hardwood plywood driven by imports of eucalyptus-faced plywood from China.

According to the most recently released HMRC statistics, softwood plywood imports have experienced a 23.8% fall compared with January-February 2023. These statistics suggest the first two months of 2024 have been the worst start to a year for softwood plywoods since 2012 ¨C mainly due to a poor January.

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TDUK head of technical and trade Nick Boulton said: ¡°At the end of 2023 and early 2024 the UK tipped into a modest ¡®mini¡¯ recession, but unlike the destructive recessions we¡¯ve seen in recent decades this one was thankfully shortlived, and economic indicators for 2024 have improved in recent months.

¡°Good growth in house-building tends to follow a recession and this has been evident over the last 50 years of UK house-building. Despite the downturn in 2023 and in 2020 because of the pandemic, the trend for housing starts over the last dozen years has been positive and would have been significantly better had these and other recent obstacles to growth not occurred.

¡°Albeit largely anecdotal for now, we are seeing improvements in the number of enquiries received by house-builders, and the likelihood of a softening in interest rates and more upbeat build forecasts from some housebuilders suggests that housing starts for 2024 may be better than predicted, although still likely below the overall 12-year trend. However, if better than expected house-building transpires in 2024, this is likely to result in better-than-expected volumes of timber imports, particularly in the softwood sector.¡±

Source: eandt.theiet.org