B.C. fights trade headwinds on forestry sales mission to Asia

The B.C. forest minister's trade mission to Asia has become something of an annual tradition that, this year, has an air to it of battling back against tough markets that have crimped the province's exports of forest products.

In past years, the event heralded B.C.'s breakthrough into the Chinese market, which rapidly took over as the province's No. 2 export market after the U.S. for lumber.

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This year however, as Forest Minister Doug Donaldson leads about 40 company executives, civil servants and Indigenous leaders on a 10-day sales trip to Korea, Japan and China, B.C. is in the fourth year of a slide in lumber sales to China.

That is a concern, Donaldson said, but the province recognizes that economic conditions have been tough in some of the places they are visiting, particularly in China, which is why their efforts will remain on selling higher-value products.

"Volumes to some of the countries we'll be visiting are down this year to date," Donaldson said. "(But) the value is not down as much, so that shows we're expanding into value-added areas."

To the end of September, the volume of B.C. lumber sales to China was down 18 per cent to 3.4 million cubic metres, worth just over $703 million, which was 13 per cent less than the value for the same period of 2017, according to provincial trade statistics.

And for all of 2017, B.C.'s lumber shipments to China fell eight per cent to 5.4 million cubic metres, though the value of those exports increased five per cent to almost $1.1 billion.

B.C.'s lumber sales to China peaked at 7.9 million cubic metres, worth just over $1 billion for the entire year.

B.C.'s total lumber exports to the end of September were down four per cent to 18.2 million cubic metres compared with 2017, although high lumber prices pushed the total value of those shipments up four per cent to just over $5 billion.

"The specific objective (of the trade mission) is to raise the volume of B.C. products ( being sold) into these jurisdictions," Donaldson said. "Between Korea, Japan and China, that represents about $2 billion in export sales just last year."

This year, thanks largely to a 17 per cent increase in the value of lumber exports to Japan, sales to the three countries as a region to the end of September are holding their own at just over $1.4 billion compared to the same period a year ago.

Donaldson said he is also encouraged by the mix of representatives on this year's trade visit, which includes executives from smaller companies as well as the biggest forest-tenure holders and a doubling of representation from First Nations communities compared with the 2017 trade mission.

And B.C.'s sales pitch will key on elements of wood construction that are increasingly important to buyers in the destination countries, Donaldson said.

In South Korea, for instance, seismic upgrading of structures is an important topic in the construction sector, so B.C. representatives will talk about how wood products fit in with earthquake stability.

In China, Donaldson said, the country's last five-year plan put a big emphasis on more environmentally friendly methods of construction, which B.C. can help with engineered wood products.

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