While Japan is the world’s largest importer of softwood chips, most international trade has occurred on the European continent, where pulpmills in Northern and Central Europe are the principal consumers. Global softwood trade reached an all-time high of almost eight million bdmt in 2018 but has since trended downward to just over six million bdmt in 2022.
The most significant changes in 2022 from earlier years were record-high sales to China (now the world’s second-largest softwood chip importer) and a plunge in imports to Finland y-o-y following the country’s implementation of a trade ban after Russia invaded Ukraine. Finland’s total import in 2022 was 360,000 bdmt, down from 1.2 million bdmt annually in 2020 and 2021.
Hardwood chip trade in the Pacific Rim reached a record high of 29 million bdmt in 2022, following an unprecedented 15-year period with only one occasion when traded volumes fell y-o-y. In just ten years, China has increased imports three-fold to almost 18 million bdmt, while shipments to Japan, the second largest importer, have remained practically unchanged at ten million bdmt annually, as reported by Wood Resources International. Three other countries in the Pacific Rim imported hardwood chips in 2022, namely South Korea (0.6 mln bdmt), Taiwan (0.6 mln bdmt), and Indonesia (0.4 mln bdmt).
During the first four months of 2023, hardwood chip sales to Asian buyers declined substantially (over 11%), with China reducing purchasing by 23% y-o-y (see chart). In contrast, Japanese pulpmills had a strong first quarter in 2023, with the largest chip import volumes in four years. The country has increased chip imports in the past few years as hardwood pulp production has increased.
Anticipated weaker global pulp markets ahead in 2023 will likely result in a decline in Pacific Rim hardwood chip trade by 10-20% this year compared to 2022, with most of the reduction occurring in shipments to China.
Source: Wood Resources International