On October 2, the United States Trade Representative announced an investigation into Vietnam’s timber trade practices. To get a better understanding of how this may effect forest product markets, here’s a quick look at recent U.S. imports of forest products from Vietnam.

In 2015, the United States imported 29,994 cubic meters of forest products from Vietnam (U.S. Census Bureau Trade Data). In 2019, this volume grew to 671,127 m3. That’s an increase of 2137%.

Hardwood plywood accounted for the majority of these imports (by volume). While hardwood plywood accounted for 51% of forest product imports from Vietnam in 2015, by the end of 2019 it accounted for 81%.

The rapid growth of hardwood plywood imports from Vietnam was extreme. In 2015, the U.S. imported 15,362 m3 of hardwood plywood from Vietnam. In 2019, this volume grew to 544,814 m3. An increase of 3,446%.

By the end of 2019, Vietnam was the top source of hardwood plywood imported into the United States accounting for 22% of total imports. In 2015, it accounted for less than 1%.

So what drove all of this growth? Total U.S. imports of hardwood plywood have actually decreased during this period of explosive growth in Vietnamese hardwood plywood imports.

Vietnam captured market share, mainly from China. Here’s a look at U.S. imports of hardwood plywood from China and Vietnam in 2015 versus 2019.

Some would argue that much of the hardwood plywood imported from Vietnam is actually Chinese product, re-exported through Vietnam.

Could this be one of the reasons why the United States announced an investigation into Vietnam’s timber trade practices?

Knowing the true source of a forest product is often trickier than it seems. But the cost of not knowing it is likely to get more expensive.

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