US softwood imports from Europe sustain record surge

US softwood lumber imports from European suppliers soared further into record territory in the first quarter after setting all-time highs in 2022. Shipments from the 10 largest European suppliers climbed to 611 million board feet through March, up, 38% from the first quarter of 2022.

First-quarter imports from Europe gained 4%, compared to the 584 million board feet (mmbf) shipped in the fourth quarter last year, and sustained the unprecedented surge in shipments that emerged last year.

North American exports once again maintained a multi-year fade as US and Canadian shippers lost market share in the largest offshore destinations to Russia, Europe, and other producing regions.

Total US imports from offshore suppliers jumped to 750 mmbf through March, up 27% from the year-ago pace. At the first-quarter rate, imports from overseas would reach 3.0 billion board feet (bbf) this year, which would surpass the record volume of 2.93 bbf set in 2005.

European shipments to the US have increased eight consecutive years since 2014, surging 27% last year compared to 2021. The US has remained a primary target among European producers expanding exports to compensate for weak domestic demand.

US traders have noted frequently this year that abundant availability of European species has augmented domestic production and shifted the supply-demand balance, especially in the South.

However, traders note that an 8% reduction in US imports from Canada offset gains from Europe. Canada shipped 241 mmbf less to the US in the first quarter compared to a year ago, which outpaced the 168 mmbf increase from Europe.

Further, plantation Pine imports faded to start 2023. Shipments from South America declined 12%, falling to 86 mmbf. Shipments from Brazil, by far the largest plantation Pine exporter to the US in recent years, slipped 8% to 52 mmbf.

Deliveries from Chile fell 22% while Radiata Pine shipments from New Zealand posted a 7% hike, rising to 24 mmbf.

Germany imports jump dramatically

Imports from Germany hit a record-setting pace in the first quarter after falling just short of an all-time high last year. Shipments jumped 55% to 348 mmbf. Imports from Sweden gained 3%, building on last year’s record total.

Deliveries from the 27-member European Union climbed to 629 mmbf, up 41% compared to the first quarter of 2022. France was among the most prominent shippers not historically listed among the top 10 European suppliers to the US.

Shipments from that country soared to 4.3 mmbf, more than triple the year-ago volume. Unlike traditional European shipments that are primarily Other Spruce, more than half of imports from France were Douglas Fir.

Russia was a rising supplier to the US before the Ukraine invasion in February 2022. Economic sanctions imposed in response to the war have since stifled trade between Russia and the US Imports from Russia plunged 91% in the first quarter.

Canadian exports overseas declined to 376 mmbf, down 9% from the first quarter of 2022. Shipments to Japan, primarily Western S-P-F, plunged 39% to 84 mmbf. The steep fade in Japan, along with declines in most other Pacific Rim destinations, offset a resurgence in sales to China, which jumped 55% to 186 mmbf.

US exports offshore declined to 88 mmbf, down 14% from the year-ago pace. Shipments to the Caribbean fell 20% to 30 mmbf.

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