Sawn softwood imports up 27.6%


Annualised sawn softwood imports lifted 27.6% to total 597,522 m3 year-ended September 2021 as importers and local end-users do all they can to meet the still-surging domestic market. While well below the peak recorded in late 2018, imports continue to grow.

As the chart here shows, imports have been expanding for eighteen months, despite the rampant global demand that has made finding extra supply challenging.

It is a little too easy to be dismissive about the certainty of import supply. The reality is that other markets – especially in North America and Europe – have been rampant. Some are more lucrative than the local market, including because the costs of shipping which are ridiculously high.

We can reasonably pose the question: where would the Australian market be without loyal support from importers? The answer is not comfortable.


To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.


It would also be tempting to consider the movements in prices as a driver for importers. But, though we can see substantial price increases below, the reality is these are barely consistent with international price increases. The average import price for these products has lifted continually and by 9.4% in September, compared with August.

Latest trade information from IndustryEdge shows prices lifted again in October, rising to a total weighted average of AUDFob792/t, a lift of another 4.0% and a clear and massive record.


To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.


The main import product was 4407.12.10.13 – structural timber grade designated for dressed fir and spruce – which increased to 210,371 m3 to the end of September, a year-ending increase of 83.2%.

As can be observed below, prices for this grade have followed the same trajectory as those for the total import volume. Little wonder when it accounts for around 35% of total imports over the last year.


To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.


While the local market has seen continuing service from established producers and importers, their patterns of supply have altered to some extent as they have worked hard to meet demand. As can be observed here, import supply from Germany exploded over the last year, but not at the expense of any other country.


To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.


The other factor creating ongoing challenges for the supply chain is of course the global shipping, freight and logistics debacle and its associated costs.

In truth, global shipping has never been easy. However, for most of the twentieth century and certainly since the advent of containerised trade around the end of the Second World War, the efforts of the global logistics system to deliver goods around the world has made the near impossible the unremarkable.

The global system has been so good, for so long, for many it was treated as simple.

Well. We have learned it aint so simple over the last year or so.

As Emma Connors wrote in the Australian Financial Review, it is not just container shipping that is disrupted, and there is some prospect that super-heated prices are beginning to moderate.

Disruptions at a port can impact the rail and road freight associated with that port. Warehouses and yards can be over-filled one minute and short of containers the next moment. ‘Schedule integrity’ is under pressure, especially because of trans-shipment at ports like Singapore, where the need to move shipping containers multiple times has simply exploded.

Uncertainty from disruptions and delays is worse in Australia as the shipping industry told the AFR’s Connors. Inadequate services and even ‘blank sailings’ have become an issue. A blank sailing is essentially a failure to meet commitments. Hardly what a trading nation like Australia needs right now – or ever!

There are plenty of measures of shipping costs. One of those followed by IndustryEdge and shown here is the cost of shipping from Shanghai, measured by the Shanghai Containerised Freight Index.


Shanghai Containerised Freight Index: 3 Jan ’20 – 3 Dec ‘21


Source: SCFI and IndustryEdge


The route to Europe is off the planet and up about seven-fold since the start of the pandemic. The Australia/New Zealand route (the Port of Melbourne is the proxy) is up about 3.8 times, more consistent with the composite index that tracks global container freight out of Shanghai.

There may have been a little shipping cost moderation in recent weeks – but not that much.

That makes the efforts of the importers all the more impressive.