New China trade sustains Oregon logging ports

China has become a major, and some say permanent, force in the Pacific Coast log trade.

Although China has been buying logs and lumber in growing numbers since 1980, the trade really took off this past spring.

Up and down the coast you hear the same story: It is the Chinese who are keeping the traditional log exporting ports, like Coos Bay, Ore., working.

Through May, China bought 195 million board feet of logs from West Coast ports compared with 74 million during the same period last year and 223 million for all of 1981.

The increased buying has provided a needed tonic for many segments of the depressed forest products industry of the Pacific Northwest, especially loggers and longshoremen.

Some liken the situation to the Columbus Day storm of 1962 when Japan provided a market for huge amounts of timber blown down in a severe windstorm.

That trade eventually grew to the point where Japan imported more than 3 billion board feet of logs annually. Nobody sees the China trade becoming that big, although some industry experts predict it will pass 400 million board feet by the end of the year.

In the past two years, though, Japan has cut back its purchases of logs due to a depressed housing market and weak yen. For many ports, sales to China have made up the difference.

Almost every logging port in the Pacific Northwest has been involved in the new China trade to some extent this year. The ports of Astoria and Newport, Ore. , loaded their first China-bound ships this year.

Here at the Port of Coos Bay, the largest log ship ever to call on the port loaded up with logs for China in June.

Some see the heavy buying as a temporary phenomenon with the Chinese shrewdly taking advantage of a market where many producers have to sell at a loss just to maintain some kind of cash flow. Others say China will continue to buy logs to provide pilings for new bridges and docks, braces for coal mines and other industrial uses.

Evidently the Chinese government values log exports highly since they have grown at a time when China is trying to cut back on other imports - with some success.

During the first half of 1982, United States exports to China fell 8 percent while Chinese exports to the US rose by 20 percent.

Not everyone welcomes the China trade in logs. Some small mill owners fear that log exports to China will hurt them the same way they claim log exports to Japan have hurt them. They want to sell only lumber processed by American workers, not logs.

''The Japan log trade also started out with a couple hundred million board feet and increased to nearly 3 billion during the 1970s,'' said M. J. Kuehne of the Northwest Independent Forest Manufacturers, a group of small mill owners.

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