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PEFC Stakeholder Day 2014: Asian Markets - a Huge Opportunity for Certified Timber

Published on 8 July 2014

The third annual PEFC UK Stakeholder Day took place in central London on the 1 July. The event focussed on the progress of certification in Asia and opportunities for the UK market. Over 100 delegates from a broad range of industry sectors heard from an expert panel including Professor Lu Wenming, the Deputy Secretary General of the Chinese Forest Certification Council.

Asian markets make up a significant and dynamic part of the global forest products trade. With roughly 60% of the world's population living in the ASEAN region, it is also a fast moving and evolving area with various challenges to extending certification, ranging from poverty in vast rural areas to the complexities of land tenure reform amongst small communities. Sarah Price from PEFC International explained how PEFC is making real progress in the region and raising awareness of the benefits of sustainable forest management certification.

The PEFC Asia Promotions Initiative has pilot projects in Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam which are driving forward solutions for agro-forestry and certification to 'fit' where it is needed. This outreach is concentrating on addressing local concerns and solving local problems to ensure that certification is both relevant and accessible. Sarah said: "This enthusiastic approach is now starting to scale up the amounts of certified products entering the market."

The marketplace for tropical timber products is shifting away from mature EU/US markets to customers in Asia, warned Sheam Satkuru-Granzella, Director of the Malaysian Timber Council. "Asian markets and countries such as India are paying similar prices for products as the EU and haven't been as affected by the recent economic downturn." 

Sheam commented on the Malaysian experience where certification levels though the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) are growing but the key challenge is still the insufficient incentive and demand for manufacturers to produce certified products. This will only change through greater awareness raising. "The mind-set of FMU managers is changing," said Sheam. "There is now more of an increasing concentration on a domestic uptake of PEFC material."

The latest national scheme to be endorsed by PEFC is the Chinese Forest Certification Council (CFCC). The CFCC has been in place since 2001 and began the application process for international recognition under PEFC in 2012, becoming approved and endorsed by PEFC earlier this year. Professor Lu Wenming, the Deputy Secretary General of the CFCC, outlined the journey and major efforts that the scheme has gone through to now certify 2.06 million hectares of forest.

Mr Lu stressed that every law, rule and regulation is strictly followed, adding that the Chinese Government is very supportive of CFCC's work and forest certification in general and seeking to incorporate certified products into government procurement policy.

Perhaps the greatest influence on Asian market development and largest area of opportunity for timber is through the ongoing massive urbanisation of the region. Michael Buckley, a long time expert on the hardwood timber sector, now based in Singapore outlined how the huge growth in population was affecting the regional markets. In 2012 approximately 53% of China was urbanised with a projection of 70% by 2035. A 1% increase in urbanisation equates to a 13 million population increase. This will create an enormous market for doors, windows and furniture particularly made from walnut, a popular species in China.

Summing up the event, Alun Watkins who heads up PEFC in the UK said: "We were delighted that so many PEFC stakeholders were able to join us for our third annual stakeholder event. The Asian market presents a huge range of opportunities and challenges. However, with the help of our national partners in Asia including the recently endorsed CFCC, PEFC is raising awareness of the importance and global significance of certified products. It is vital that we continue to work with local communities as well as national governments to ensure an inclusive and sustainable future."

The event was sponsored by Arnold Laver, Ingénue Consultancy, Malaysian Timber Council, Soil Association Woodmark and Whitmore's Timber. The afternoon ended with a drinks reception with many delegates remaining to discuss the issues and topics raised during the presentations and panel debate.