For the French oak growers, the current situation is favorable because the export of oak logs has soared and the prices have risen. This is mainly due to China’s demand. French oak producers traditionally sell oak logs to factories, then cut logs into wood and produce various products such as floors, furniture, caskets, and wine barrels. But now, private forest owners have begun to sell timber directly to Chinese buyers because buyers are willing to pay higher prices for their own processing. This has caused many French sawmills to lack wood to process and work hard to complete orders.
Nicolas Douzain-Didier, president of the French National Forest Association (FNB), said that sawmills with a large number of oak resources are currently safe, but because they cannot afford higher prices, they will have difficulty buying New oak resource. He said that the smaller local sawmill company will lose customers and workers will lose their jobs.
France is the third largest oak producer in the world, and about 26,000 jobs are directly related to this. As of the end of March, about 80% of French sawmills had 30% less inventory than needed to complete orders.
Any joblessness is politically embarrassing for President Emmanuelle Macron, who has made reducing the unemployment rate his top priority. The manufacturer of the sawmill had asked him for help, but in March this year, the crisis meeting between the French Minister of Agriculture and the producers and owners of the sawmill failed to reach a compromise.
In France, privately-owned forests account for nearly 80% of the forest area. For those oak growers who usually begin cutting trees 100-150 years ago, the price increase is a welcome rebound.
China is the world’s largest timber importer and its demand is growing. In order to meet growing demand, Chinese manufacturers have to buy oak trees overseas. In Foshan, a furniture trading center in Guangdong Province, China, traders said that demand is supported by young rich people who like European interior design.
Fudeli, a flooring manufacturer in China, said that nearly 90% of China’s solid composite wood flooring is made of oak, which is a significant increase from the beginning of this century. “At least 70% of our customers who buy French oak flooring are millennials after 80s and 90s.” said Chen Deyi, a local distributor of Fordell flooring.
At the Louvre, a large luxury furniture exhibition center in Foshan, customers can find luxury brands such as Versace and Bentley. For many people, price is not the biggest problem. Four Seasons Furniture has launched a series of French oak furniture, hoping to profit from high demand. A small side table made of French white oak costs 3,680 yuan (US$576).
“We have just recently started to promote French oak furniture in China,” said Candy Zhu, sales manager at the Louvre exhibition centre.
According to data from the FNB (First National Bank), in the year ending in January 2018, French exports of oak wood to China increased by 35%, which currently accounts for 70% of all oak wood exports in France.
This made France the second largest supplier of oak wood in China, ahead of Russia and second only to the United States. Industry experts said that it is expected that trade disputes between Washington and Beijing will not affect business.
FNB data shows that since 2009, the prices of some oak logs in France have doubled, while the prices of other tree species such as beech and pine have declined over the same period.