29 January, 2001

Victorian woodchip exports down but far from out

Philip Hopkins,
The Age (article),  29/1/2001

Victorian woodchip exports dropped slightly in value to $133.46 million in 1999-2000, according to the latest figures.

Of this total, the state's softwood woodchip exports were valued at $86.72 million and the hardwood woodchip exports at $46.75 million, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics reported last week.

In the previous three financial years, Victoria's total woodchip exports had been respectively $135.57 million, $124.76 million and $90.77 million.

Victoria's softwood woodchip exports in 1999-2000 ($86.77 million) represented 60 per cent of the value of national softwood woodchip exports ($143.33 million). The 1999-00 national total was a 7.4 per cent drop on the previous year's figure of $94.08 million, despite a slight rise in volume, reflecting poorer prices.

The $46.77 million in Victorian hardwood chip exports was higher than the previous three years; in 1998-99 they were valued at $41.57million, up from $40.57 million in 1997-98 and $25.37 million in 1996-97.

The latest ABARE hardwood figure was an estimate, because statistics on the value and volume of hardwood woodchip exports from the states are no longer available on the ground of commercial confidence.

Figures on the country of destination of hardwood woodchip exports will also not be available. Only national hardwood woodchip export figures will be published.

All softwood woodchip export figures will continue to be available.

These changes are due to an agreement between the Australian Bureau of Statistics and commercial operators that are key exporters of hardwood woodchips. The ABS declined to say whether one or more companies was involved.

Companies maintain that publication of the state hardwood statistics makes them easily recognisable and undermines their commercial operations.

Nationally, ABARE estimated that the volume of Australian woodchip exports in 1999-2000 rose 20 per cent to more than 4.67 million tonnes.

This was the highest annual level recorded and consisted of 3.6 million tonnes of hardwood and 1.04 million softwood chips. More than half the latter (651,700 tonnes) came from Victoria.

ABARE said the largest rises were in hardwood woodchip exports to Japan and Indonesia, with softwood woodchip exports increasing only slightly.

A fall in the average unit price of woodchip exports to Japan and exports of lower-valued woodchips to other Asian countries partly offset the large rise in volume.  Despite lower prices, the higher volumes pushed the value of national woodchip exports up 10 per cent to $647 million - $504 million for hardwood (up 16 per cent) and $143 million for softwood.  ABARE said the rise in woodchip exports was due to a 3.6 per cent increase in Japanese domestic demand for paper in the first six months of 2000. Australia became the major supplier of both hardwood and softwood woodchips to Japan in 1999-2000, as woodchip imports from the United States fell.

Despite the increase in woodchip exports, Australia's trade deficit in forest products increased to $2.2 billion in 1999-2000 from $1.96 billion the previous financial year.

The value of forest products imports rose by 16 per cent to about $3.8 billion, while the value of exports rose by 22 per cent to $1.58 billion.

ABARE said imports were boosted by strong economic growth and the upturn in the housing industry. This was the third consecutive year of import growth.

The biggest contributor to imports was paper and paperboard, whose value rose by 14 per cent ($242 million) to almost $2 billion.

The total value of sawnwood imports rose by 32 per cent ($131 million) to $548 million due to the rise in housing construction. Victoria's share of the total was $146 million.

The value of imports of miscellaneous forest products, such as doors and mouldings, rose by 20 per cent to $476 million, of which Victoria's share was $84.5 million.

Victoria's other main forest products imports in 1999-2000 were veneers ($9.4 million), plywood ($32.4 million), particleboard ($2.19 million), medium-density fibreboard ($23.8 million) and softboard ($6.16 million).

ABARE said Victorian and Australian roundwood exports had more than doubled in recent years. In 1999-2000, Australian exports of roundwood were 1.2 million cubic metres, a record annual level, of which Victoria's share was nearly half - 535,000 cubic metres. In 1997-98, Victoria's roundwood exports were 193,980 cubic metres.

However, the average unit value of roundwood exports continued to decline, with falls of 11-15 per cent. Overall, the value of Australian roundwood exports rose by 43 per cent to about $70 million, of which Victoria's share was $26.3 million.

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