THE volume of timber and panel products imported in the first quarter of 2021 was at its highest in more than a decade, the latest UK Timber Trade Federation statistics show.

Import volumes were 23% higher, nearing almost 3 million cub m compared to 2,396,000 cub m in the same period last year.

Based on the strength of demand, the federation estimates the total volume of imports in the second quarter this year could reach 3,300,000 cub m to rival the 2007 figure of 3,371,000 cub m.

With demand so strong that even record imports cannot satisfy it, CEO David Hopkins believes supply is likely to continue to tighten, particularly as Swedish mill stocks are the lowest for 20 years.

The federation has warned that these low stock levels will mean the balance between supply and demand is likely to further tighten this summer.

In terms of construction, Sweden is the single largest supply source providing almost half of the structural wood used in the UK.

Swedish sawmills have been able to keep production going during the pandemic, but increasing demand for wood products globally has seen stocks at  run down, leading to the lowest stock levels for more than 20 years. Production is continuing at full throttle and March became the best production month ever for Swedish sawmills.

The federation says as structural wood buyers will already be more than aware, the supply-demand balance means that almost all wood arriving in the UK has been presold to customers. And despite strict allocation, most buyers are not able to obtain full quantities needed to meet demand.

This situation has been made worse because there are insufficient heavy goods vehicles available to get the wood out of UK ports and into customers’ yards.

Approaching July, sawmills and wood production facilities in Sweden and other European countries start to close for essential summer maintenance and this will significantly reduce the available supply of structural wood from the region.

In order to maintain the supply chain during this summer shutdown period, there has been a significant reliance on Swedish sawmill stocks. However, if these stocks are now at their lowest level for 20 years there will not be sufficient supply to satisfy UK structural wood demand into 2021.