Dive Brief:

  • The National Association of Home Builders reported that representatives from the U.S. homebuilding industry have wrapped up talks with public and private interests in Chile around the possibility of importing more softwood and other lumber products from the country.
  • The two sides discussed policy issues and potential barriers to Chile raising its current 1.22% share of the U.S. lumber market. The NAHB said that because of the free trade agreement between the two countries, Chile could provide an affordable softwood option for builders.
  • Canada is currently the number one exporter of wood to the U.S., with a share of 28%. However, the U.S.-Canada softwood trade agreements have given rise to decades-long disputes, which, according to the NAHB, have resulted in higher prices.

Dive Insight:

The softwood trade agreement between Canada and the U.S. expired last October, and the two nations are currently in a one-year “cooling off period,” during which no wood-related trade disputes can be lodged. In addition, the two countries announced in June that despite more than three months of “intense negotiations,” they were unable to reach a new agreement. The NAHB reported at the time that the main point of contention was the fact that the U.S. wanted to reduce Canada’s share of the market to 22% over a four-year period. Therefore, the U.S. delegation’s recent trip to Chile will surely be seen as a signal to Canada that U.S. builders don’t intend to limit their options in seeking sources of affordable softwood.

NAHB CEO Jerry Howard said increased competition in the lumber market would benefit both the homebuilding industry and homeowners as the housing recovery demands wood. Howard said in a press release that if Chile can boost its exports to the U.S., “U.S. industries such as housing that depend on a reliable supply of softwood lumber would be able to meet the housing needs of American consumers and to keep lumber and housing affordable.”

The NAHB said U.S. homebuilders would prefer to buy all wood domestically, but American producers cannot keep pace with demand. In an effort to invigorate the U.S. lumber industry, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other wood organizations are pushing cross-laminated timber (CLT) as a viable, more sustainable alternative to steel and concrete for skyscrapers and other buildings that have typically steered clear of wood. In fact, in the last year, there have been several efforts worldwide seeking to demonstrate that CLT can be used successfully in high-rise structures. These include preliminary plans for a 436-foot-tall, 40-story skyscraper in Stockholm, Sweden, and an 80-story, 984-foot-tall wood residential high-rise in London.

However, on a negative note for the wood industry last month, Sandy Springs, GA, banned the use of wood-framed construction for buildings more than three stories high and larger than 100,000 square feet. The city council said it made the move to noncombustibles on such large-scale projects for reasons of safety, durability and longevity.