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Forest products

Sarah Scott
(202) 708-1397
Sarah.Scott@ustic.gov

Robert Ireland
(202) 708-4101
Robert.Ireland@usitc.gov

  To view changing data, hover over or touch the animated graphic below.

Change in 2017 from 2016:

  • U.S. total forest product exports: increased by $2.0 billion (5.3 percent) to $39.7 billion
  • U.S. total forest product imports: increased by $1.7 billion (4.0 percent) to $44.9 billion

Total U.S. trade in forest products increased modestly in 2017 as both exports and imports rose for most of the sector’s product groups.[1] The increase in U.S. forest products exports ended a two-year decline and was driven by three product groups—paperboard, lumber, and wood pulp—which accounted for 80.1 percent of the increase in 2017, by value. Canada, China, and Mexico collectively accounted for the majority (58.2 percent) of 2017 U.S. export growth, and were also the largest U.S. export markets. The increase in imports of U.S. forest products continued the steady, but relatively modest growth of the last several years. In 2017, the increase was driven by two product groups—(1) lumber and (2) wood veneer and panels—which accounted for 53.1 percent of the increase by value.

U.S. Exports[2]

U.S. exports of forest products grew $2.0 billion (5.3 percent) to $39.7 billion in 2017, driven largely by rising exports of paperboard and of hardwood lumber and logs. In 2017, Canada remained the largest export market for U.S. forest products, accounting for 24.0 percent of the total. U.S. exports to Canada grew by 1.9 percent, after declining at a faster pace in each of the last three years. The second leading trading partner for these U.S. exports was China, which accounted for 19.7 percent of the total. U.S. exports to China rose 10.8 percent, nearly twice as fast as the 2016 increase (5.7 percent). Mexico was the third-largest U.S. export market, accounting for 14.9 percent. U.S. exports to Mexico rose by 5.0 percent after declining by 1.4 percent in 2016.

Table FP.1: Forest products: U.S. exports and general imports, by selected trading partners, 2013–17

 
Million $
 
Item
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
Absolute change,
2016–17
Percent
change,
2016–17
U.S. exports of domestic merchandise:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    Canada
10,299
10,100
9,477
9,019
9,170
151
1.7
    China
6,783
6,930
6,361
6,780
7,514
734
10.8
    Mexico
5,405
5,477
5,518
5,441
5,715
275
5.0
    Brazil
385
376
350
293
280
-13
-4.4
    Japan
2,216
2,139
1,962
1,870
1,918
48
2.5
    United Kingdom
1,514
1,675
1,821
1,662
1,637
-25
-1.5
    Germany
737
715
628
612
631
19
3.0
    South Korea
854
880
809
764
773
9
1.2
    Chile
237
219
225
200
221
21
10.4
    Italy
800
701
677
617
680
63
10.2
    All other
9,993
10,317
9,648
8,976
9,702
726
8.1
        Total domestic exports
39,223
39,529
37,475
36,234
38,241
2,007
5.5
Foreign exports
1,616
1,640
1,584
1,473
1,457
-16
-1.1
Total U.S. exports (domestic and foreign)
40,839
41,169
39,059
37,707
39,698
1,991
5.3
U.S. general imports:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    Canada
18,088
18,971
18,069
18,704
19,116
412
2.2
    China
8,274
8,873
9,517
9,562
9,819
256
2.7
    Mexico
1,652
1,817
1,950
1,910
1,981
71
3.7
    Brazil
2,161
2,166
2,207
2,181
2,455
274
12.6
    Japan
468
453
460
446
441
-5
-1.2
    United Kingdom
556
624
622
627
667
40
6.5
    Germany
1,113
1,108
1,173
1,185
1,425
240
20.3
    South Korea
540
616
578
544
537
-7
-1.2
    Chile
764
824
893
888
885
-3
-0.3
    Italy
366
395
393
427
426
-2
-0.4
    All other
6,002
6,366
6,522
6,644
7,105
461
6.9
        Total general imports
39,984
42,213
42,383
43,118
44,856
1,738
4.0

Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Note: Import values are based on customs value; export values are based on free along ship value, U.S. port of export. Calculations based on unrounded data. The countries shown are those with the largest total U.S. trade (U.S. general imports plus U.S. domestic exports) in these products in the current year.

U.S. exports of lumber grew by 14.3 percent to $3.9 billion in 2017, after growing by 5.8 percent in 2016. Lumber accounted for 24.3 percent of the overall increase in U.S. forest products exports in 2017, by value. The two largest destinations for U.S. lumber exports were China and Canada. In recent years, however, Canada’s share has decreased as China’s share has grown, driven by rising housing demand from China’s growing middle and upper classes as well as its expanding furniture industry.[3] The largest change in lumber exports was in hardwood lumber, mostly oak. Hardwood lumber is often used in manufacturing housing fixtures—such as cabinets, flooring, millwork, or trim—and furniture. The largest share of U.S. exports of oak lumber was shipped to China,[4] which grew by 35.4 percent in 2017 after slightly slower growth (25.8 percent) in 2016. The growth in U.S. exports was mostly due to rising volumes, as average prices on these products rose only slightly.

Table FP.2: Forest products: Leading changes in U.S. exports and imports, 2013–17

 
Million $
 
Item
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
Absolute change,
2016–17
Percent
change,
2016–17
U.S. domestic exports:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    Increases:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
        Paperboard (FP011A)
6,631
6,848
6,601
6,402
7,090
688
10.8
        Lumber (FP002)
3,133
3,609
3,216
3,403
3,890
487
14.3
        Wood pulp and recovered paper (FP009)
8,697
8,702
8,483
8,299
8,775
476
5.7
        Logs and rough wood products (FP001)
3,117
3,390
3,104
3,043
3,398
356
11.7
        Paper boxes and bags (FP010)
1,840
1,864
1,904
1,868
1,905
37
2.0
        Tissue and tissue products (FP011B)
2,034
2,010
1,977
1,809
1,810
1
(a)
    Decreases:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
        Newsprint (FP012)
445
312
246
149
142
-7
-4.6
    All other
13,327
12,794
11,943
11,262
11,231
-31
-0.3
        Total
39,223
39,529
37,475
36,234
38,241
2,007
5.5
U.S. general imports:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    Increases:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
        Lumber (FP002)
5,036
5,731
5,446
6,609
7,120
511
7.7
        Wood veneer and wood panels (FP004)
4,588
4,806
5,222
5,730
6,128
398
6.9
        Paperboard (FP011A)
2,551
2,776
2,743
2,730
2,981
250
9.2
        Moldings, millwork, and joinery (FP003)
2,853
3,069
3,215
3,176
3,424
247
7.8
        Paper boxes and bags (FP010)
2,088
2,194
2,338
2,404
2,538
134
5.6
    Decreases:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
        Newsprint (FP012)
1,290
1,316
1,068
979
907
-72
-7.4
    All other
21,577
22,320
22,351
21,489
21,758
269
1.3
        Total
39,984
42,213
42,383
43,118
44,856
1,738
4.0

Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Note: Import values are based on customs value; export values are based on free along ship value, U.S. port of export. Calculations based on unrounded data.
 aLess than 0.05 percent

Exports of logs and rough wood products grew by 11.7 percent to $3.4 billion in 2017, after dropping a total of 10.2 percent over the previous two years. Logs and rough wood accounted for 17.7 percent of the growth in total forest products exports in 2017, by value. The largest share (41.1 percent) of these exports went to China, which also accounted for nearly all of the growth.[5] In 2017, much of the increase (45.7 percent) was accounted for by red oak and southern yellow pine logs and rough wood. China’s share of U.S. exports of logs has increased in the last several years by both volume and value. Reportedly, certain Chinese buyers, instead of buying U.S. lumber from U.S. sawmills, purchased U.S. logs for further processing in China, often paying as much as 50 percent more than the usual U.S. sawmill price. These Chinese purchases were also driven by the country’s housing demand trends.[6] In addition, the growing Chinese demand reportedly stressed the U.S. log market’s tight inventory, pushing prices (including export prices) higher.[7]

Industrial papers and paperboards continued to be the largest U.S. paper products export, and grew moderately (up $628 million) to $9.5 billion. Continuing the trend seen in previous years, Mexico, China, and Canada were the largest recipients of U.S. industrial papers and paperboards, accounting for 55.1 percent of the total. In particular, chemical pulp exports increased 8.1 percent to $4.4 billion. Fluff pulp, a type of chemical pulp, is used for, among other things, producing absorbent hygiene products, and is a growth product spurred by aging baby boomers and growing demand in China.[8] Driven by the growth in e-commerce, exports of paper boxes and bags rose slightly by 2.0 percent to $1.9 billion. However, reflecting the digitalization of newspapers, newsprint exports dropped 4.6 percent to $100 million and have now declined 68.0 percent between 2013 and 2017.

The United States accounted for about a third of world exports of wastepaper for recycling in 2017 ($3.2 billion), but saw only slight export growth (up 1.4 percent). China has been the main destination for U.S. wastepaper exports, but fell to a 53.8 percent export share in 2017 from a 60.9 percent share in 2016. In mid-2017, the Chinese government announced significant changes to its imports of this commodity, banning some types of recyclable paper and restricting others. Accordingly, the U.S. sought new export markets for recycling much of its wastepaper inventory.[9] As exports to China declined, exports to India and Mexico grew collectively by $100 million to account for 23 percent of U.S. exports of recovered paper.

U.S. Imports

U.S. imports of forest products increased $1.7 billion (4.0 percent) to $44.9 billion in 2017. The growth was due largely to rising imports of lumber; paperboard; wood veneer and panels; and moldings, millwork, and joinery. In 2017, the largest share of forest products imports to the United States came from Canada, accounting for 42.7 percent. U.S. imports from Canada grew by 2.2 percent, after growing at a faster pace (3.5 percent) in 2016. The second leading supplier of these imports was China, which accounted for 21.9 percent. U.S. imports from China rose 2.7 percent after rising by 0.5 percent in 2016.

U.S. imports of lumber rose by 7.7 percent to $7.1 billion in 2017 after rising at a faster pace (21.4 percent) in 2016. The growth of the U.S. housing market in both housing starts (2.5 percent growth) and residential repair and remodeling (6 percent increase)[10]—including home repairs from last year’s hurricanes[11]—increased demand for imports of lumber, wood veneer and wood panels, and moldings, millwork, and joinery. Rising U.S. housing demand also contributed to increases in wood product prices: on average, lumber prices were 14.1 percent higher and structural panel prices were 3.7 percent higher in 2017 than in 2016.[12]

Canada accounted for 83.2 percent of all U.S. lumber imports for consumption in 2017 and 81.4 percent of all U.S. lumber imports were Canadian softwood lumber. Canada has been the top supplier of this commodity to the United States for many years.  The growth in imports of Canadian lumber to the United States, however, slowed from 24.5 percent in 2016 to 4.4 percent in 2017. There were several factors in this slowdown: Canadian log shortages from beetle-related curtailments, environmental policy reforms related to woodland caribou, and weeks of record-setting wildfires in Canada’s main lumber-source area in British Columbia.[13] In addition, U.S. imports showed an out-of-season decline in midsummer (May–July).[14]

U.S. imports of wood veneer and wood panels grew $0.4 billion (7.0 percent) to $6.1 billion in 2017. U.S. imports of moldings, millwork, and joinery increased $0.2 billion (8.0 percent) to $3.4 billion in 2017. In addition to lumber, Canada is also the top trading partner for U.S. imports of these wood products.

U.S. purchases of paper products abroad were dominated by imports of industrial papers and paperboards, which increased slightly (up 3.1 percent) to $6.5 billion in 2017; Canada, Mexico, and China have long been the United States’ largest foreign suppliers for this product group. In particular, Canada continued to provide the vast majority of U.S. newsprint imports (99 percent). Largely because of digitization, however, imports of newsprint from Canada dropped 7.7 percent to $900 million in 2017, and have now declined by 29.8 percent since 2013. On the other hand, U.S. imports of paper boxes and bags have grown every year since 2013 and reached $2.5 billion in 2017, due largely to the growth in e-commerce.[15] Most of the growth in 2017 imports of paper boxes and bags came from the three largest markets: China, Canada, and Mexico.

 

[1] In 2017, 10 of 16 forest products groups posted increases in exports, and 13 of 16 posted increases in imports.

[2] As appropriate, this section will address total exports, domestic exports, and re-exports.

[3] Buchlmann, Bumgardner, and Alderman, “Recent Developments in US Hardwood Lumber,” April 2017, 213–22; Hardwood Market Report, December 2017, 12.

[4] Hardwood Market Report, January 2018, 5, 7.

[5] The United Kingdom (16.2 percent), Japan (14.6 percent), and Canada (11.2 percent) were also important destinations for U.S. log exports.

[6] Hardwood Market Report, December 2017, 12.

[7] Forth, “China High Quality Log Buying Grows,” January 24, 2018.

[8] Skerritt, “Diapers for Baby Boomers Give Boost,” March 9, 2017.

[9] China’s new policies have resulted in a buildup of stockpiles of wastepaper, once destined for China’s recycling facilities, at U.S. ports and wastepaper collection sites. Alternate capacity, whether domestic or in other countries, is insufficient to handle the oversupply, and it takes several years to design, permit, finance, and construct new capacity. As a result, most mixed paper is now entering U.S. landfills. U.S. markets are looking for new destinations—mostly in Southeast Asia—to which they can divert these recyclables. Scott, “China’s Recycled Wastepaper Import Policies,” April 2018.

[10] During 2016–17, housing starts increased by 2.5 percent compared with a compound annual growth rate of

1.9 percent during the five preceding years. U.S. Census, “New Privately Owned Housing Units Started” (accessed May 5, 2018). Also, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the price tag for the average remodeling project by homeowners in the average zip code increased 6 percent, from $5,800 in 2016 to $6,148 in 2017. Emrath, “NAHB Releases Remodeling By Zip Code,” May 2017; Emrath, “NAHB Releases Remodeling By Zip Code,” May 2016.

[11] Random Lengths, Yardstick, January 2018, 11.

[12] Prices are for framing lumber and structural panel composite. Random Lengths, “Framing Lumber and Structural Panel Composite Prices,” January 2018, 285, 298.

[13] Random Lengths, Yardstick, January 2018, 2, 11.

[14] The most recent agreement between the United States and Canada on softwood lumber supplied from Canada was the Softwood Lumber Agreement of 2006, which lasted until October 2016. Preliminary combined (antidumping and countervailing duty) duties of 17.41 to 30.88 percent started in mid-2017 with final countervailing and antidumping duties on Canadian lumber shipments to the U.S. in effect in late 2017. USDOC, “U.S. Department of Commerce Issues Affirmative,” June 2017; USITC, “Softwood Lumber from Canada Injures Industry, Says USITC,” December 2017.

[15] Mies, “US Box Demand ‘Back in Growth Mode,’” May 26, 2017.

 

Bibliography 

Buehlmann, Urs, Matthew Bumgardner, and Delton Alderman. “Recent Developments in US Hardwood Lumber Markets and Linkages to Housing Construction.” Current Forestry Reports 3, no. 3 (April 2017): 213–22. https://www.doi.org/10.1007/s40725-017-0059-y.

Emrath, Paul. “NAHB Releases Remodeling by Zip Code Estimates for 2016.” National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Eye on Housing, May 25, 2016. http://eyeonhousing.org/2016/05/nahb-releases-remodeling-by-zip-code-estimates-for-2016/.

Emrath, Paul. “NAHB Releases Remodeling by Zip Code Estimates for 2017.” National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Eye on Housing, May 26, 2017. http://eyeonhousing.org/2017/05/nahb-releases-remodeling-by-zip-code-estimates-for-2017/.

Forth, Karl D. “China High Quality Log Buying Grows, Bypassing U.S. Sawmills.” Woodworking Industry News, January 24, 2018. https://www.woodworkingnetwork.com/news/woodworking-industry-news/china-high-quality-log-buying-grows-bypassing-us-sawmills.

Hardwood Market Report 46, no. 1 (January 2018). http://www.hmr.com/ (fee required).

Hardwood Market Report 45, no. 52 (December 2017). http://www.hmr.com/ (fee required).

IHS Markit. Global Trade Atlas database. https://ihsmarkit.com/products/maritime-global-trade-atlas.html (accessed May 1, 2018).

Mies, Will. “US Box Demand ‘Back in Growth Mode Again’ with a Major Boost from eCommerce, Speakers Tell FBA.” RISI Technology Channels, May 26, 2017. https://technology.risiinfo.com/mills/north-america/us-box-demand-back-growth-mode-again-major-boost-e-commerce-speakers-tell-fba.

Random Lengths. Yardstick 28, no. 1 (January 2018). http://www.randomlengths.com/Product/Detail/Yardstick/ (fee required).

Random Lengths.Framing Lumber and Structural Panel Composite Prices.” In Yearbook: Forest Product Market Prices and Statistics, 2017, January 2018. http://www.randomlengths.com/in-depth/monthly-composite-prices/ (fee required).

Scott, Sarah. “China’s Recycled Wastepaper Import Policies, Part 1: Impact on the United States.” U.S. International Trade Commission. Executive Briefing on Trade, April 2018. https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/executive_briefings/ebot_china_recycled_paper_final.pdf.

Skerritt, Jen. “Diapers for Baby Boomers Give Boost to the Paper Industry.” Bloomberg, March 9, 2017. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-10/diapers-for-baby-boomers-help-papermakers-absorb-print-losses.

U.S. Census Bureau (U.S. Census). “New Privately Owned Housing Units Started.” https://www.census.gov/construction/nrc/pdf/startsan.pdf (accessed May 5, 2018).

U.S. Department of Commerce (USDOC). “U.S. Department of Commerce Issues Affirmative Preliminary Antidumping Duty Determination on Softwood Lumber from Canada.” News release, June 2017. https://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2017/06/us-department-commerce-issues-affirmative-preliminary-antidumping-duty.

U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). “Softwood Lumber from Canada Injures Industry, Says USITC.” Press release, December 7, 2017. https://www.usitc.gov/press_room/news_release/2017/er1207ll879.htm.