Expanding Export Markets for U.S. Softwood Products
Helping industry organizations establish and grow sales around the world
In the final months of 2017, SEC hosted two groups of incoming delegates from Mexico and Thailand. The Mexican representatives visited Seattle before attending the NAWLA Traders Market in Chicago, and shortly thereafter we hosted the Thai group in Portland for a comprehensive tour of the softwood industry in Oregon & Washington. While appealing to different markets, both of these missions focused on innovation at the mill and in construction, highlighting sustainability, efficiency, and the symbiotic relationship of these two properties.
These tours are at the heart of SEC's mission: to build relationships through more personal outreach. Hosting delegates is a strategic way to get importers from different markets to begin thinking about American softwoods, first because of the connection we've built, and finally because of the quality of our wood and the examples we have illustrated by examining creative end-uses. In demonstrating how and why the U.S. consumes wood, we join others to our cause, as our sites speak for themselves: wood is transformed for visitors into an exciting material that brings light and warmth into corporate spaces, character into homes, and carries enormous long-term benefits for the health of our planet.
To prepare these inbound missions, our itineraries are carefully crafted to exhibit a holistic system that allows a burgeoning market to understand the advantages of American softwoods, and what it would take to replicate our best-practices. Our itinerary for the Thais is a great example: it included tours of a forest, multiple mills, a CLT exhibition, and construction sites that exemplified the possibilities of mass timber, while also demonstrating the opportunities for efficiency in construction that wood can provide. Likewise, our Mexican delegates visited finished sites where mass timber meets sustainability in public and corporate spaces. The seminars we arrange are supplementary, offering an opportunity to delve deeper and ask questions about what the visiting groups have seen. This technical training privileges structural lumber and construction sectors: when you teach people how to build with wood, they buy wood. And, of course, we include networking opportunities for our members, and exposure to our industry.
There are upcoming inbound missions planned for 2018 that will use these same systems-based tenets. A delegation from China in January will focus on mass timber engineering systems, while an incoming Pakistani group in July will focus on sourcing. Ensuring our programs meet the needs of the markets they're designed to inform is crucial, as these are countries in different stages of development. Pakistan is an early-market distribution area, while China has the infrastructure to handle mass timber and will be excited about the opportunities U.S. softwood can bring their growing skyline.
In 2016, SEC partnered with the Cochran Fellowship Program to host groups from Egypt, Pakistan, & Peru, utilizing other FAS funds outside our core MAP and FMD programs. The Cochran Fellowship Program provides short-term training opportunities to agricultural professionals from middle income countries, emerging markets, & emerging democracies.
Cochran fellows come to the United States, generally for 2-3 weeks, to work with U.S. universities, government agencies and private companies. They receive hands-on training to enhance their technical knowledge and skills in areas related to agricultural trade, agribusiness development, management, policy and marketing.
Of these three groups, Pakistan is currently the largest market and the best immediate opportunity for U.S. softwood products. Pakistani demand for wood products has increased significantly in recent years, reaching 370,000 cubic meters in 2015. U.S. exports to this market are strong, reaching record levels and growing at an average annual rate of 47%. Pakistan has become the seventh largest market for U.S. softwoods and has set themselves up to be a major distributor in the Middle East region.
Cochran’s assistance in Peru was also invaluable, and with their financial assistance SEC prepared the most extensive educational programming to date, equipping the ten Peruvian representatives with knowledge about U.S. domestic and international lumber standards and codes: their development, testing, and compliance. Participants also attended the Greenbuild International Conference, with options for multiple seminars and walking tours centered around safety and sustainability. The technical information offered during this Cochran program allowed the Peruvians the knowledge to advocate for U.S. softwoods within their home country, potentially opening Peru’s building codes to include U.S. structural grades.
If your association is interested in hosting delegates from a specific emerging market, please let SEC know, as we have the ability to request market partnerships from Cochran administrators.
As China's economy continues to struggle, it becomes increasingly important to create ties with wood industry representatives in the East in order to understand their perspective on the downturn and the opportunities for growth during a strained period of trade. This is precisely why three Chinese delegates traveled to Los Angeles this March to participate in Western Wood Product Association's annual meeting, providing insight into the Chinese economy's impact on wood imports.
During their trip, the delegates (alongside a Chinese reporter) were able to visit Portland, where they toured four U.S. construction sites, each exemplary models of softwood construction that highlight the structural integrity and interior beauty of U.S. softwoods:
After touring Columbia Vista and Sierra Pacific Industries in Aberdeen, WA the next day, our Chinese visitors have a better understanding about our West coast softwood lumber species, their availability, and production.
Leading the charge in market education overseas, Brian Court of Seattle-based Miller Hull has given seminars in Guadalajara and Beijing on Green Building during August and October, using the award-winning design for the Bullitt Center as a case study. In addition to a waterless composting toilet system, rainwater harvesting system, and rooftop solar panels that yield an annual net zero energy use, the six-story office building features warm softwood interiors made up of glu-lam Doug Fir columns and beams.
Court mixes materials for the most effective structure and exposes the lumber frame not only to save on materials and time, but also for the texture and richness that wood visually provides within the space. The natural finish is an expressive element of the building's design, and resonates with tenants: surveys from employees working in the Bullitt Center report that the number one most-loved aspect of the building is the exposed wood, a critical component that brings life to the workplace during the Pacific Northwest's long, gray winters. "There is a movement where spaces are more flexible, fluid, less prescribed--timber is an element of that," explains Court, "it resonates with people on a primal, emotional level."
The government is planning to streamline the import/export process with a new International Trade Data System, launching on November 1, 2015. The system aims to save time and paper with an electronic database that will afford agencies access to shipment data and allow them to submit documentation to easily comply with Customs and Border Protection. Since that crucial information is currently only in hardcopy, ITDS will expedite communication between CBP and agencies, and better ensure security of cargo. There are plenty of educational webinars and workshops to learn more.
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