VICTORIA – Surging forest products sales to Asia have for the first time nearly equaled sales to the U.S., where the housing market continues to decline.
Forests Minister Pat Bell released September statistics for the industry Thursday, showing that total lumber, pulp, paper, plywood and other manufactured wood product sales to China and Japan reached 40 per cent of B.C.'s output.
Sales to the U.S., where historically the vast majority of B.C. products have gone, are at 42.2 per cent. U.S. sales are expected to reach six billion board feet this year, about the same as the last two years and far below historic highs.
Bell called the fast-growing Asian exports "the magic" that has turned around the slumping B.C. forest industry. B.C. still hasn't recovered to its historic average where 10 to 11 billion cubic metres was harvested each year, but the latest figures bring the projected total cut for this year to 8.6 billion.
"The harvesting on the coast of British Columbia, year to date as of October, is up 70.1 per cent," Bell said. "The harvesting in the interior as of October is up 24.7 per cent. That is an incredible success story by any measure."
The ministry estimates that restarted mills and logging operations have added nearly 5,000 jobs this year, after a disastrous period of shutdowns and layoffs fueled by the U.S. housing market collapse and world recession.
Bell said forestry and logging employment up 33.8 per cent, and wood products employment is up 5.2 per cent for a total growth of about nine per cent. That is despite an 11.4 per cent drop in jobs in paper mills, mainly due to Catalyst Paper reducing operations.
October figures show U.S. housing construction going from bad to worse, down 11.7 per cent from September for a projected total of 519,000 new units this year.
In the coastal and Vancouver Island region, 1.14 million cubic metres was harvested from Crown land in October, a 70 per cent jump from last year. The coastal industry has been so slow that the ministry has seen some recent years where the entire year's harvest didn't reach three million cubic metres.
Bell credited the increase partly to container shipping of logs and lumber from Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Containers from Asia used to return empty, but now wood products can be shipped to China for about the same cost as sending them by rail to the Eastern U.S., he said.