Forestry for the Planet. Forest Products for the World.

Susan Yurkovich wraps up the Council of Forest Industries 2017 conference in Vancouver.

We kicked off yesterday with Minister Thomson talking about some of the work his Ministry has undertaken, some of accomplishments during his tenure and with what still lies ahead.

Jock Finlayson followed with a snapshot of the global outlook. He reminded us that it is the growing middle class that is really driving and shaping the global economic environment. And that has implications for all of us. He provided an overview of some of the key economic metrics including the changes he sees occurring and the uncertainty that exists. He provided an overview of some of the key economic metrics including the changes he sees occurring and the uncertainty that exists. He reminded us that, while we may have concerns about a Trump administration, the prospect of interest rates or relatively modest housing growth, our real concern should be the erosion of our competitive position here in BC, if this is not addressed over time.

Our international markets panel looked at four geographic areas. Paul Jannke shared an update on the housing market in the US and the drivers that effect the timing and pace of that recovery. That recovery is in its infancy, in the range of 100,000 units per year, due to a combination of shortages of both labour and building lots, other relative concentration of income gains and difficulties getting mortgages, but he sees a sustained period of growth ahead.

In China, 2016 was a record high year for imports at 32 million m3. Erik Wong reflected that, while we may have lost some market share to Russia and Europe, we have the opportunity to get it back given the growing desirability of green building.

The Indian market that Peter Bradfield described will be the 5th largest consumer market by 2025, with 60% of its population under the age of 35. The good news is that wood is part of the Indian culture and there are opportunities for us in this developing economy. Peter described a number of opportunities and the work being done to seed this market but noted that like all new ventures, they will take time to develop.

And finally, the message from Russ Taylor was clear – the Russians are coming! The devaluation of the ruble created a sharp change in their cost structure that is allowing them to invest in their operations to capture new markets, especially in China.

At yesterday’s lunch, Michael Green provided a fascinating presentation on what the prospects and possibilities are for tall wood buildings. In his view the biggest challenge facing proponents of tall wood structures is not the technical challenges, but changing the perception of what is possible. But change is coming and it could be disruptive for our sector. He challenged us to think about how we can capitalize on the move to a systematization in building and the use of mass timber structures to the advantage of our BC industry.

Lisa Mueller led a fantastic panel on best practices for partnering with First Nations. The message from both industry and First Nations panelists was – build relationships, engage early and often and look for areas where industry and community can share a similar vision for economic development.

Finally we heard for our CEO panel. Duncan Davies provided his perspective on the Softwood Lumber dispute and what he believes is the current state of play. Don Kayne underscored that the acceptance of wood as a green building product is real and shared his perspectives on the huge opportunities that continue to exist for us in global markets.

Nick Arkle spoke about how his company is adapting to the changes in fibre in a way that meets the unique challenges of their business and Ted Seraphim shared a few examples of why we all should feel both optimism and pride about the things that our industry is accomplishing.

This morning we heard from some of our community leaders. The mayors spoke about the importance of the forest sector to our communities, not just in the north and interior but also in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, which are also forest dependent. As Mayor Moore said, its important that we continue to drive the conversation across the province about the direct impact of the forest industry and he challenged us to find ways to quantify that impact in terms of jobs and contract opportunities – for those who may not see it directly.

Our innovation panel experts provided a perfect illustration of how BC’s high-tech pioneers are applying their knowledge and vision to transform and modernize BC’s forest industry. From cloud-based systems that help mills run more efficiently and high-resolution geospatial data to survey and analyze forestry roads, timber stands and log yards, to 3D technology and cognitive computing to analyze trucking and address transportation, one of the highest costs fact by the forest sector – technology is transforming our industry and helping us to meet the challenges we face.

Finally, Kirsten Hillman and David Emerson talked about trade with the US. Collectively, we are the largest market for goods and our economies are intricately linked. While the road ahead with NAFTA and softwood lumber are uncertain, we know that our products are needed to meet US demand. We know also that there is a huge commitment form the federal and provincial government to work with industry to find a way forward. And we will continue to push for a resolution that works for BC and for the many workers and communities that depend on our industries.

We were delighted to welcome the Premier of British Columbia, The Honourable Christy Clark to close the 2017 conference as our Friday luncheon speaker. Clark quickly moved her comments to the top of mind issue for all delegates – the softwood lumber dispute. She emphasized the solid commitment she and her government have made to finding a solution that will benefit all British Columbians. Recognizing the importance of the forest sector to BC, she said this isn’t just a jobs issue but a families issue that impacts communities throughout the province.

I want to end by reiterating what our Chairman said yesterday. We have our challenges but I am incredibly optimistic about the opportunities ahead. This industry has a proud history and a bright future and I am grateful to be part of it.

BC Council of Forest Industries (COFI)

TEL: 604-684-0211