More than a year has passed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, supported by Belarus. Since then, more than 30 countries have imposed sanctions on Russian and Belarusian exports, including timber and timber by-products, including plywood.
The European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway have banned all timber imports from both countries. The United States has withdrawn Russia’s “most favoured nation” status, raising tariffs to 50% on imports of birch plywood from Russia and Belarus.
At the same time, the international forest certification bodies FSC and PEFC suspended the certificates of all timber from Russia, Belarus and certain provinces of Ukraine, on the grounds that they were considered to be ‘conflict timber’.
In terms of scope, the sanctions on timber and timber by-products from Russia and Belarus apply to all products falling under WCO (World Customs Organisation) Harmonised System (HS) Chapter 44, to which birch plywood belongs (code 44 12 33 10).
(As a reminder, birch plywood from Russia, even before the beginning of the conflict and the imposition of sanctions against Russia and Belarus, was already subject to anti-dumping measures put in place by the EU (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/1930 of 8 November 2021).
The EU’s surveillance and enforcement tools
These sanctions result in a ban on the import, acquisition and supply of timber and timber by-products from and/or originating in these two countries: this means that the import from a third country (Turkey, China, Vietnam, for example) of timber or timber by-products originating in Russia or Belarus is also prohibited.
It seems that channels for circumventing these sanctions are being organised, based on the falsification of the labelling of timber and timber by-products imported as coming from Central Asia.
Thus, in order to enforce the ban and all restrictions on imports from Russia and Belarus, the EU has a set of proven and effective monitoring and enforcement tools to deal with violators:
- Sanctions are implemented by member countries, under the supervision and coordination of the European Commission;
- Investigation of possible customs fraud: The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) monitors fraudulent practices, such as false declarations of origin, undervaluation and misdescription of goods. If OLAF determines that fraud has occurred, the importer will be held responsible for retroactive payment of evaded duties (plus fines of up to 200% of the duties evaded).
- Anti-circumvention investigation: This focuses on imports of products allegedly processed or assembled in a third country in order to avoid payment of anti-dumping duties. European producers can apply to the European Commission for a formal anti-circumvention investigation which can lead to the retroactive application of anti-dumping duties;
- Violation of the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR): This regulation aims to combat illegal logging and associated trade in timber and by-timber products within the EU. Under the EUTR, so-called conflict timber is considered illegal; the EUTR requires operators (first-time buyers) to conduct due diligence based on risk assessment and evidence-based criteria, demonstrating that the timber (or the timber from which the products are made) is not illegally harvested. Compliance with the EUTR is monitored by each Member State and sanctions are set at a national level.
Poplar plywood is an appropriate, local and available option
Birch plywood, which is produced in Russia and Belarus in larger volumes than in Europe, has long been a favourite plywood for European markets. However, with imports from these countries banned, European traders and retailers have to look for sustainable alternatives to meet market demands.
In this context, European poplar plywood is an exciting option: it is from sustainably managed forests, it is an available product, it is Euro-local and therefore produced as close to the markets as possible and it has aesthetic and mechanical properties that give it interesting potential to replace birch plywood.
European plywood manufacturers offer a variety of poplar-based plywood products, including mixed species plywood (combi or twin). Thanks to the combinations of species the combi panels can have advanced mechanical properties.
Poplar-based plywood has very good natural characteristics, and its performance can be further enhanced with different finishes and/or treatments: fire resistance, moisture and ageing resistance, design and decorative treatments are just some of the options.
Poplar plywood is also a material known for its high stability and resistance to swelling. With a much lower density than birch plywood, (400kg/m3 to 450 KG/m3 instead of 690 kg/m3 to 700 kg/m3), it makes it light (an excellent “mechanical/weight” ratio) and easy to machine. Poplar plywood is at least 1/3 more lightweight than birch.
All these characteristics and options, as well as the ability of manufacturers to design their products to drastically different market requirements, make European poplar plywood the intelligent choice for all projects, from everyday DIY to large-scale projects.