The scarcity of birch logs in Russia—driven primarily by the country’s rapid birch plywood capacity expansion and a significant increase in birch log exports—is a topic that has been discussed by the domestic forest products industry and the government for a couple of years. Now, it seems that the dialogue has finally resulted in some potential solutions. Though pending official approval, birch log export limitations are expected to take effect in early 2018.
I first covered this topic in early 2017, and just recently provided an update and my perspective as a participant in a birch plywood roundtable hosted in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The lack of log availability, rapidly increasing export volumes, rising prices and fierce competition for premium quality logs, the Russian plywood industry has been actively lobbying for changes in birch log export policies. And finally, they have succeeded in making their case.
According to a Russian Federation Governmental Decree, special limitations will be implemented on birch log exports from Russia beginning on January 1, 2018. A short summary of the most contentious issues mentioned in the document include:
- What specific birch products fall under the regulations? Birch (Betula) logs, with a small-end diameter (SED) above 6” and length exceeding 3.3’. (Current customs code 4403 95 000 1.)
- Which importing countries will be affected? All countries outside the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will be affected by the new export regulations. Member countries of the EEU include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, which can import without limitation.
- What are the new export limitations for destinations outside the EEU? Export limitations are implemented through quotas, which will be capped at 567,000 cubic meters (m3) for the first half of 2018. (This volume also corresponds to birch log exports in the first half of 2014.)
- How (and to whom) will the quota volumes be granted? The quotas will be implemented by granting export licenses to qualified companies. The licenses will be issued to companies that have been involved in birch log exports since 2014, and in quotas proportional to their previously-exported volumes.
- Who grants the quota? The Ministry of Industry & Trade
- How long will the regulations be in effect? From January 1, 2018 to June 30, 2018 (six months).
As mentioned above, these preliminary policies lack approval from the Russian Federation government, and the policies are not yet official.
First, these regulations should provide short-term relief for Russian birch plywood producers; the availability of the logs should improve, and prices should decrease. In fact, poor harvesting conditions during the summer resulted in a decrease in the capacity utilization rate at operating plywood mills.
Second, no mention is made of specific regions in Russia that will be affected, which generally means the regulations will be countrywide. Of the top birch log export regions, only two are located in the sourcing area of Russian birch plywood mills.
The effects these regulations will have on the plywood industry, harvesting companies and other industry stakeholders are uncertain in the long-term. For now, the first step to implementing these policies will be gaining official approval from the Russian government.