Wood product makers suffer timber shortage
Donghwa’s 100,000-square meter factory in Gajwa-dong, Incheon, was eerily quiet during a recent visit to the timber product maker early this month. The factory had been out of operation for the previous week.
A timber storage area to supply material for the particle board that the company produces was nearly empty. Company officials said less than less than 1,000 tons of timber was being stored in the yard compared with 30,000 tons in mid-2009.
“With this amount of timber, we can operate the factory only half a day,” said Song Jeong-hwan, a company executive. “A shortage like this is unprecedented. We didn’t even suffer like this during the Asian financial crisis.”
Timber product makers are having a hard time acquiring timber because of the price hike for the material. Over the past year, the price of used timber jumped over 30 percent and the price of imported raw timber over 60 percent. Fast-rising demand at home and abroad is causing the price surge, but a supply shortage is also a factor.
Discarded timber at construction sites are a major source of used timber, but the slumping property market is reducing used timber supplies, which have dropped more than 50 percent over the past five years.
“In the past they just gave the used timber to us, only charging us the transportation cost, but now we have to pay 15,000 won [$13.50] per ton,” said Kim Myeong-lip, an official of Sungchang Enterprise, a local timber product developer.
The global price hike due to a surging demand for timber in China and India is making things worse. Russia’s policy to curb timber exports is also squeezing the supply. To cover the cost, timber product manufacturers are raising the prices of the products.
Data from the Korea Wood Panel Association showed the price of particle board rose 14 percent over the past six months. Industry watchers and the Korea Forest Service said it is time for Korea to think about effective ways to manage timber resources.
So far, the government has encouraged planting trees for conservation, but from now on, the nation also should plant trees that are industrially recyclable and use them for industrial purposes. Experts point out that negative public sentiment against cutting trees is a stumbling block to that plan. “Fully grown trees lose capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, so cutting them down and planting new trees is more ecologically beneficial,” said Song Kyung-ho, an official of the Korea Forest Service.
By Kim Hyo-eun [email@example.com]