Enter the Dragon: FBN heads to China for an up-close look at its growing wood product markets

“That is a sleeping dragon. Let him sleep! If he wakes, he will shake the world.”

Enter the dragon - FBN heads to China for an up close look at its growing wood product marketsIt was China that drew comparison to that fierce, mythical creature. And it’s Napoleon Bonaparte who deserves credit for some rather uncanny 19th century foresight. True to the great French military and political leader’s words, the Middle Kingdom has not only roused from its slumber but has ascended over recent years as a significant world power and economic powerhouse that shows no signs of nodding off.

Certainly the North American wood products industry has felt its wide reach as China’s insatiable appetite for natural resources is the saving grace of many Canadian and U.S. West Coast sawmills since the global recession began in 2008.

The growing importance of China and Asia as a whole to the North American wood products industry has led Forest Business Network (FBN) to tackle the topic of wood exports not only in a recent webinar, but will make it one of three key focus areas — along with small diameter timber and wood-based biofuels — at FBN’s own Small Log Conference, to be held March 13-15, 2013 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

With wood exports gaining a greater slice of our business, FBN felt a need to get a closer look. That’s why on September 7, I’ll be traveling to China with 15 other folks from across the U.S. forest products industry as part of an introductory trade servicing mission hosted by the Softwood Export Council and American Softwoods China. Our group will immerse ourselves in a crash-course on Chinese lumber markets, ports, and construction sites around Beijing and Shanghai over the 5-day trip.

While the trade mission’s objectives are fact-finding and introducing American companies to Chinese wood product buyers, my trip goals as an FBN staff member are three-fold:

  1. Learn more about trade events and networking opportunities for U.S. forest product companies that can help them gain footholds in foreign markets — namely the Softwood Export Council’s hosted trips and its travel cost-share program — and report what I learn to FBN readers so you can benefit from these opportunities.
  2. Detail, both in writing and in photos, Chinese wood product needs and the various applications they use North American wood so you can gain a better understanding of how your company might play a role in exporting its products.
  3. Represent the Montana World Trade Center in recruiting Chinese buyers for a March 2013 reverse trade mission in Western Montana and the Idaho Panhandle. A portion of the reverse trade mission will take part at the Small Log Conference. There, the international delegates will tour Panhandle forest product businesses and network with Conference attendees over the 2 1/2 days of the event, and then spend 3-4 days in Western Montana getting a first-hand look at how this region can compete in the global marketplace.

Softwood Export Council: A primer

So who and what is the Softwood Export Council (SEC)? The SEC is a Portland, Oregon-based association and is, according to their website:

…a trade council comprising U.S. softwood grading agencies, industry trade associations, state export promotional development agencies, and others interested in expanding international markets for U.S. softwood lumber. On behalf of the U.S. softwood lumber industry, the SEC coordinates overseas market development activities with the Foreign Agricultural Service, and aids American exports of softwood products by providing information and assistance to agents, importers, designers, and users of these products in other countries. Through trade association and grading agency members, SEC represents exporters of softwood lumber, veneer, mouldings and millwork, and component products.

[SEC] members represent softwood lumber and secondary wood products manufactured from the commercially viable softwood tree species common to the Western, Midwestern and Northeastern United States. These products are commonly used throughout the world in structural, interior, industrial, and outdoor living applications. Common species represented by the SEC include Douglas fir, Western hemlock and true firs, Eastern white pine, Western larch or tamarack, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, Sitka spruce, Western red cedar, Alaska yellow cedar, and California redwood.

SEC gets its international funding from the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) programs and its domestic funding from member associations and their dues. This funding combination gives the U.S. softwoods industry a far greater opportunity to exploit and grow demand for its products.

Member associations of the SEC include “trade associations, grading agencies, state agencies and others whose members or constituents hold a vested interest in expanding sales of American softwood lumber overseas.”

How the SEC can introduce your company to foreign markets

So now that we know a bit more about the SEC, how do forest product companies like yours play a role? By joining SEC member associations mentioned above, companies can gain access to SEC trade events such as trade missions, expos, and wood product meetings. In the case of Forest Business Network, we are a member of the Montana World Trade Center which is in turn a member of the SEC, and this gives FBN the opportunity to be a part of the China trade delegation. This indirect association with the Softwood Export Council also allows Forest Business Network to receive significantly discounted travel costs through the SEC’s Association Company Participation Program (ACPP).

I’ll discuss in detail the ACP Program and its trade event cost-sharing — something that should be of great interest to U.S. companies wanting to dip their toes into foreign markets — in part 2 of my series on the SEC trade servicing mission to China. Look for that blog post next week.

Tom Waddell is Forest Business Network’s VP of Marketing and Sales

Photo above: Tsange / Wikimedia Commons

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