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Coast Whitewood Mills Look To Asian Markets

By L. Ward Johnson
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Over the last decade, log costs for BC’s coastal sawmills have been increasing at a sharper rate than in previous years . The reason for this is not only a tightening log supply, the result of encroaching urbanization and the establishment of additional parks and reserve areas throughout the province, but it’s also due to more stringent regulations and higher stumpage costs for harvesting and protection of the environment.

To cope with these trends, most coastal whitewood sawmills, particularly the older ones, have changed over from producing conventional dimension lumber for the North American market, to seek out new markets in Pacific Rim countries such as Japan and Taiwan. Not only is there significant demand for BC wood products in the Pacific Rim, but with the premium-quality requirements and larger dimensions traditional in Asian construction applications, the lumber has a higher value.

One company currently making an even greater commitment to the Japanese market is International Forest Products Limited (Interfor), a large integrated BC forest products company headquartered in Vancouver. Faced with the very problems of insufficient log supplies and excessive log costs, the company is revamping its structure and conversion capabilities to accommodate the change.

As part of its new strategy, Interfor is closing one of its plants, Bay Lumber at Pitt Meadows, BC in the Fraser Valley, and is planning to spend $150 million over the next five years to upgrade its remaining eight coastal and interior sawmills. While all company mills will produce some products for the Japanese market, Interfor has three mills that produce a very large percentage of their production for the Japanese market.

These mills include Fraser Mills and Western Whitewood (3W) in New Westminster, and Squamish Lumber Division at Squamish, 50 km nort h west of Vancouver. The breakthrough for Interfor came last year, when it acquired the coastal operations of Weldwood of Canada. This purchase came with two sawmills and approximately a million cubic meters of additional annual cut.


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