Posted February 21, 2018

NAHB: Lumber exports and imports are on the rise

U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood are prompting U.S. producers to chase higher lumber profits overseas, causing housing volatility here at home.

As punitive duties averaging more than 20% were imposed on Canadian softwood lumber imports in 2017, domestic producers responded by shipping record amounts of lumber overseas.

U.S. exports overseas climbed 9% in 2017, compared to a modest 1% increase in 2016 and a sharp 16% drop in 2015. Exports to China, the largest U.S. offshore customer, were up 21% from 2016. Producers of southern yellow pine exported 41% more to China in 2017 than they did in 2016.

At the same time that domestic lumber producers claimed they were being harmed by Canadian imports, they were sending record amounts of softwood lumber overseas because they could charge a higher premium to foreign nations.

Meanwhile, the tariffs are harming housing affordability, causing extreme price volatility and incentivizing foreign nations to boost lumber exports to the U.S. because of record-high prices.

Lumber imports posted their fifth consecutive yearly gain in 2017. However, unlike the previous four years, the increase was accompanied by a decline in imports from Canada—the first such decline in six years.

Roughly one-third of the lumber used in the U.S. last year was imported. Even with rising imports from other nations, the bulk of imported lumber — more than 95% — came from Canada.

This is why NAHB believes it is imperative that the U.S. and Canada find an equitable long-term solution in lumber trade that provides a steady supply of lumber at a reasonable price.

In addition to working with political and industry leaders in Canada and the U.S. on the trade front, NAHB is urging top congressional and administration officials to open more public lands for domestic timber production. This is the most straightforward way to diminish reliance on imported lumber.

At the same time, the NAHB is calling on domestic producers to curb their timber exports when there is a gaping need at home.