Industry leaders issue warning on legality of Far East timber imports

Construction leaders have warned that some timber products which are being sourced from the Far East could be illegal to import.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has warned that Far East imports of birch plywood come from Russian logs and are therefore deemed illegal in the UK.

Supplies of the product will continue to tighten in the coming months, especially in the summer, the CLC’s product-availability working group said in its latest report.

“[Birch plywood] will become increasing scarce as summer progresses as outside of Russia there is only limited production from Europe, principally Finland,” CLC product-availability co-chairs John Newcomb, who is chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation, and Peter Caplehorn, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, warned.

Imports of products from Russia and Belarus were banned following the Russian invasion of Ukraine which began in February, but the group said imports from the Far East could also be illegal due to Russian materials being used in the region.

“If the UK market is offered birch plywood for later in the year from the Far East, it will be based on Russian birch logs and will be illegal to import,” the report says.

An impacted birchwood supply chain is most likely to affect the joinery, shopfitting and finishing sectors.

But most other wood products, including structural softwood, are fully stocked in the UK, the report adds. The joinery and shopfitting industries may also find alternatives to Russian redwood and whitewood, but these could end up being more expensive.

“There is a good supply of most products and materials but, as previously reported, ongoing challenges continue to affect bricks, aircrete blocks, concrete products, PIR insulation products and gas boilers, all of which are on long lead times,” the report says.

The persistent shortage of HGV drivers is also finally starting to ease, thanks to a “record number” of HGV drivers taking their tests. It estimates there is now a driver shortfall of 65,000, down from a peak of 100,000 beforehand. The driver shortage led to severe delivery delays of up to four weeks, hitting projects across the UK.

This positive impact is, however, mitigated by high costs to haulage and shipping, with some European lorry manufacturers refusing to take orders because of backlog issues or uncertainty over pricing.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) chief executive Alasdair Reisner said that the drop in HGV driver vacancies was “welcome”.

“[But] there still remains an urgent need to further address this skills gap, not just for our industry but for the UK economy as a whole,” he added. “We look forward to working with industry colleagues to establish practical steps that can be taken to address this situation, and with the UK government to support policies that can address shortfalls in supply of both skills and materials in both the short and longer term.”

Concerns over rising fuel and raw material costs are also set to continue, following further government restrictions on Russian gas and oil imports.

Rising material costs and price increases meanwhile slowed down the construction sector’s growth in April, according to the most recent Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI). The ongoing price hikes had “started to act as a brake on demand”, that report said.

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