EC issued blueprint to further develop EU’s significant forest-based industries

23-9-2013 — /EuropaWire/ — Today the Commission issued a blueprint to further develop the EU’s significant forest-based industries,indicating activities that can be undertaken to help this sector fulfil its potential to substantially contribute to our goal of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by 2020. The Blueprint describes the EU’s wood-processing and related industries and the challenges they face – including global competition, raw-material supplies; environmental, renewable energy and climate policy targets; educational needs, logistics and an ageing workforce – and describes how to address these challenges. The Blueprint was issued in conjunction with a new EU Forest Strategy: for forests and the forest-based sector.

In launching the Strategy and Blueprint, European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship, and Dacian Cioloș, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development,noted that EU forest-based industries (F-BI) form a significant part of manufacturing in Europe, having around 3.5 million jobs and nearly €500 billion worth of annual turnover. They are thus at the forefront of the Commission’s efforts to create growth and jobs, an important element of which is the re-industrialisation of the European economy.

In this context, and with many of their products based on renewable and recyclable wood, the EU F-BI have good potential to contribute more widely to Europe’s 2020 and even 2050 goals, based on sustainable forest management. In particular, sustainable construction and furniture offer scope to improve the F-BI’s market share in more traditional products, whilst bio-based products, intelligent paper and packaging and new print applications could further harness high-tech potential, both in the EU and global markets.

Having set the scene of the EU’s forest-based industries (woodworking; furniture; pulp & paper; printing) through sectoral, economic and technological outlooks, the Blueprint then outlines their four sub-sectors in more detail. Their eleven sets of challenges are subsequently identified and discussed, along with activities to help address them; as follows:

Stimulating growth: F-BI need to improve production efficiency and the quality of their products and services, in order to grow markets both within and outside the EU. In parallel they need to develop bio-based products, take an active role in sustainable construction and improve customer information on furniture;

Resource and energy efficiency: responding to increased competition from both bio-energy and the bio-economy for wood raw material, the “cascade” principle should help the EU use its wood more effectively, by the F-BI and other wood-users. Similarly, energy efficiencies can help reduce F-BI production costs;

Raw materials: although EU forests are growing, they are also ageing and face ever more legal, ownership and other limitations to harvesting wood. Wood recycling lags behind that of paper. Much wood imported to the EU is taxed before export. Some EU saw-logs are exported. To better address these difficulties, wood is included in the European Innovation Partnership for Raw Materials. Intertwined with raw material supply and product delivery, better logistics are also vital to sectoral competitiveness;

Structural adaptation: most firms in the F-BI are small, medium (SMEs) or micro enterprises and thus need to co-operate both upstream and downstream in their value chains in order to achieve economies of scale;

Innovation and RTD: are vital activities for new products and processes, such as bio-refineries, and also to support other improvements along the F-BI’s four value chains. To this end, EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and COSME can provide invaluable help, along with the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform;

Education, training & skills; ageing workforce: technological improvement often cannot be harnessed due to a lack of scope for re-training existing workforces. A shortage of young entrants means existing F-BI skills are not being passed on. Sectoral Social Dialogues and European Skills Alliances can help address these issues;

Coherence of EU legislation: F-BI are affected by various EU policies and related legislation. It is important to ensure coherence and consistency in order to provide a predictable environment for economic operators.

Implementation of EU climate policy: wood-based panels and paper are within the scope of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). Along with sawn wood, their stored carbon can now also be accounted under the Land use, Land-use Change and Forestry Emissions Agreement (LULUCF);

International competition, trade and co-operation: as high-cost but efficient producers of wood-based products, EU F-BI need to ensure they maintain international competitiveness and access to global markets. The EU’s trade agreements help improve market access and address abuses of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules through trade-defence instruments. Sectoral dialogues complement these efforts;

Information, communication & image: better information of all kinds and its flow within and between F-BI sub-sectors would help improve their functioning and hence efficiency and competitiveness. Better external information could improve their communication to other stakeholders and society in general and thus help improve their image, which is often rather negative.

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