Timber industry in Vietnam awaits FSC certification drive

January 11, 2024 | 11:30
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Strict Forest Stewardship Council certification regulations pose both challenges and opportunities for the Vietnamese timber industry.

One of the largest retailers in the United States, William Sonam, is seeking to procure Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified timber products from Vietnam.

Timber industry in Vietnam awaits FSC certification drive
Timber industry in Vietnam awaits FSC certification drive, photo Le Toan

David Williams, William Sonam’s representative at the FSC Asia Business Encounter 2023 on December 14 said, “Part of the strategy to ensure that half of the wood products sold in our retail chain are FSC certified by 2025 is to increase product awareness and promote responsible consumption. When a forest product receives an FSC certification, it indicates that the manufacturing process has ensured environmental responsibility and social benefits.”

Vietnam has an increased demand for FSC-certified timber materials due to requirements from import markets, the largest of which are the US and Europe. However, there are restrictions on the origin of such materials.

“We are investing in a factory in the south-central province of Binh Dinh to gain access to raw material regions with FSC,” said Tekcom Corporation’s purchasing manager, Cao Thi Thuy An. “At present, the company requires 18,000 square metres of FSC timber per month as an input material to manufacture plywood boards intended for export to the US and European markets.”

The timber industry is experiencing heightened pressure due to consumer demand for FSC-certified wood products. Dr. Tran Le Huy, general secretary of the Forest Products Association of Binh Dinh, said that domestic wood resources are insufficient for the production of export wooden furniture and lack proper certification, whereas 70 per cent of materials must be FSC-certified and the remainder must be sourced wood, according to European and American standards.

“Both domestic and imported sources hamper the supply of FSC,” said Huy. “Firstly, the furniture sector is where the wood products’ industry is organised for smallholder producers. Furthermore, the import turnover pertaining to timber and wood products that possess FSC certification is relatively insignificant. Vietnam imported timber and wood products worth approximately $3 billion in 2022, but FSC wood imports accounted for only 2.2 per cent.”

Vietnam primarily purchases FSC wood from South American and South African countries, but arriving here will present challenges due to passive lengthy shipping times, and high sea freight costs, Huy added.

In recent years, the Vietnamese government has implemented priority policies, such as the Vietnam Forestry Development Strategy for 2021–2030 and a scheme to develop a sustainable and effective wood processing industry, which promotes the growth of large plantation timber with FSC certification.

As a consequence, an increasing number of companies operating in the timber processing sector are actively pursuing prospects for direct involvement in the certified forest supply chain. A number of companies, including Woodsland, NAFOCO, and Scancia Pacific, have achieved raw material self-sufficiency by collaborating with foresters.

Woodsland Tuyen Quang, an enterprise that manufactures interior and exterior wood products for IKEA Group, has collaborated with five forestry companies in the northern province of Tuyen Quang since 2015, investing in and procuring certified planted forest wood products.

At present, Woodsland and its partners have collaborated to establish more than 28,000ha of certified and sustainable forests, which supply between 150,000 and 200,000cu.m of round wood annually, with over 90 per cent of the demand for raw wood coming from certified forests.

In 2024 and subsequent years, Woodsland’s strategic goal remains the construction of an FSC-certified raw material area, according to the company’s president, Do Thi Bach Tuyet.

“Presently, the company is engaged in collaboration with forestry firms and domestic organisations to formulate a forest management strategy spanning a minimum of seven years, with the objective of establishing timber material areas that satisfy processing requirements,” Tuyet said.

Vu Thi Que Anh, the FSC representative in Vietnam, remarked that the ability to access more developed global markets is one of the greatest benefits for forest owners in Vietnam through obtaining FSC certification. This increases forest owners’ revenue and establishes advantageous market connections for business operations.

“Consumers in European markets are frequently willing to pay a premium for wood products, such as paper or furniture, if they are assured that the product is sourced sustainably and does not lead to increased deforestation,” she said.

According to Que Anh, the proportion of forested land in Vietnam with FSC certification has reportedly increased in recent years. The FSC-certified forest area in Vietnam is projected to encompass approximately 282,960ha, representing 64 per cent of the country’s total planted forest area. “Nevertheless, we advise companies to enhance their capabilities and remain informed about the latest market trends, standards, and guidelines to secure affordable raw material sources and maintain a streamlined supply chain that guarantees traceability,” Que Anh said.

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