Overseas market for US lumber abounds if lumbermen can deliver

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

While the financially troubled timber industry in the Northwest "has important and growing markets" in the Middle East, Europe, and Australia, its best opportunity today lies in serving the needs of Pacific Rim countries, especially Japan.

This view was presented by C. W. Bingham, senior vice- president of the Weyerhauser Company, speaking at a recent Forest Products Conference here.

The Pacific Rim countries, Mr. Bingham asserted, "are short of softwood materials and they can be served very competitively from the West Coast."

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Mr. Bingham said that a substantial timber export market began developing "around 1960 as first Japan, and more recently Europe, began to reach the limits of their sustainable annual timber harvests and began to seek new (supply) sources."

By 1970, the speaker noted, Japan was importing 55 percent of its total wood requirement, and by 1980 "its wood deficit had grown to 68 percent." But Mr. Bingham warned that timber industry executives should not take export markets, especially Japan, for granted.

"The first principle is to sell what the customer wants to buy," he said. "Probably mix can be changed gradually after confidence is reached that we are reliable suppliers."

The Weyerhauser executive also listed five other steps that must be taken to effectively serve the overseas market:

* There must be production in those sizes and qualities of products needed in the marketplace.

* There must be demonstrated commitment on the part of US timbermen to providing steady supplies to those markets.

* Products produced for export must be usable in overseas markets, and marketing approaches must meet the needs of overseas' customers.

* Political and governmental environments must connote that continuity of supply will be both permitted and encouraged.

Major investments must be made in mills, port facilities, and ships to handle the export traffic.

Weyerhauser between 1975 and 1980 made new capital investments of $2.2 billion in Oregon and Washington covering reforestation, road construction, the maintenance, modernization, and replacement of existing plants and machines, and new capacity and facilities.

Those investments, Mr. Bingham asserted, "were made in large part on the assumption that these (Oregon and Washington) forests and facilities will continue to have access to all markets, for all forest products, in all forms."

He charged that "few Northwest mills have made the investments necessary to serve the lumber export markets effectively."

The Forestry Conference, held under the auspices of the Portland Chamber of Commerce, also heard from Robert H. Keesee, senior economist for the Georgia-Pacific Corporation, W. D. Hagenstein, retired executive vice-president of the Industrial Forestry Association, and Dick Worthington, US Forest Service Regional Forester for Oregon and Washington.

All of these speakers touched on the subject of increased cutting of trees on US-owned acreage in the Northwest.Mr. Keesee said it now is time for the federal government to set the boundaries of recommended wilderness areas "and to release the balance so that the [Forest] Service can move ahead in a program for more effective use of land and timber."

"No one wants to eliminate wilderness areas," Mr. Keesee emphasized. "What we want and need is an acceleration of the process by which they are determined so that other decisions on the remaining timber and timberlands can be made."

It also is time now, he said, that everyone should realize "the huge costs associated with policies that fail to recognize the economic value of the timber."

Underscoring this economic importance, Mr. Keesee said that in Oregon, for instance, each billion board feet of timber processed in the state means direct or indirect employment for one year of about 27,00 workers.

"Federal timber policies over the next 20 to 30 years are absolutely vital to the economic health of the Northwest."

Mr. Hagenstein said of the future of the Northwest timer supply that he was "more optimistic than I've been in a decade" and that it is obvious that this country is exchanging "a policy of willful waste of our federal forest resources for one of wise conservative through use."

Mr. Worthington told his audience that any increase in harvesting of old growth timber in national forests must be accompanied by proper funding or there will be reduced production in those forests.

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