Asian Buyers Dominate BC Timber Trade Show
Originally published by: Vancouver Sun — September 8, 2011
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When British Columbia's value-added wood sector opens its Global Buyers Mission on Thursday at Whistler, Kun Wang will be one of a record-high number of Chinese business people attending the three-day trade show.
For the first time in its eight year history, the premiere trade show for British Columbia wood products is attracting more buyers from China than from the United States.
Twenty-four Chinese companies have signed up for the Global Buyers Mission, compared to 22 U.S. companies. Add to that list 13 Japanese companies, 11 Korean companies, eight from India, five from Taiwan and five from Vietnam, and Asia's emerging role as a buyer of B.C. wood products becomes much more clear.
Sixty-eight of the 99 business delegations at the event come from Asia. The purpose of the event, put on by the trade association BC Wood, is to bring international buyers of wood products together with B.C. value-added manufacturers, who generate $4.85 billion a year in export sales. Products on display range from kitchen cabinets to log homes and crosslaminated timber panels, a relatively new product aimed at replacing concrete in commercial construction.
China's growing interest in B.C. wood products is just another chapter in China's need for resources to fuel its manufacturing, Wang said in an interview before the conference opened. Investors and buyers alike are seeking out new sources of supply, he said.
But differences between the two business cultures often make closing a deal difficult, Wang said, especially for smallto-medium-size businesses in both countries. Even getting a visa can be insurmountable for a medium-sized manufacturer in a Chinese city where there is no Canadian visa office, he said.
On the Canadian side, a sawmill may want to develop ties with Chinese manufacturers but does not have the in-house staff that the larger companies have to forge cross-Pacific links. That's where the Global Buyers Mission comes in, bringing Canadian companies in direct contact with potential customers. Wang expects the conference to be fertile ground for his company, Youtal Supply Chain Management Inc.
He specializes in bridging the gap for medium-sized businesses, both here and in China, by providing services and reducing the risk for Chinese investors.
"There are very good opportunities in China for Canadian sawmills," he said.
"It is well-known that Canadian mills look after quality."
The Global Buyers Mission is unique among wood products trade shows in that it is the buyers who come from abroad to attend the trade show, rather than the sellers of wood products going abroad.
It is kept deliberately small, - there is room for only 700 delegates - to create a social atmosphere that encourages networking, and it is held in the resort municipality of Whistler, where visiting business leaders only have to step outside the door of their hotel to see some of the most spectacular applications of B.C. wood products in the log-and timber-frame homes that have become Whistler's architectural signature.
BC Wood president Brian Hawrysh said the event is sold out.
"The exciting news this year is the growth in the Asian market," Hawrysh said in an interview. "With the growth in the Chinese economy and in many Asian economies - Vietnam is an example - we have seen manufacturers reach out for new sources of lumber and raw materials.
"The industry recognizes that. It has put up the resources and partnered with the government to take advantage of that - to let those manufacturers know what is available here and the interest that B.C. companies have in supplying their needs."
Hawrysh said the 99 international companies will be there seeking to do business with 90 B.C. wood products companies that will have exhibits at the event. The offshore market is a major focus this year, but there's also growing interest from the North American commercial construction market, which has not been hit as hard as the U.S. housing market.
There's plenty of room for the wood products sector to tap that market, said Bill Downing, president of Structurlam Products, an Okanagan-based manufacturer specializing in glue-laminated beams and cross-laminated timber panels. Structurlam is focusing on making inroads against both steel and concrete, the materials of choice in commercial construction.
"The commercial market has always been a focus for Structurlam," Downing said in an interview. Sales to the U.S. have been hurt by the economic downturn and a Canadian dollar above par, he said, but commercial and institutional construction in Canada remains healthy.