The Belgian woodworking industry in 2023

Increased competitive handicap and falling construction activity drag down turnover

Turnover of the woodworking industry fell by 12.1% in value and 11.5% in volume in 2023, at virtually unchanged prices (-0.6%). In 2022, wood turnover was still up 13.3%. In each quarter of 2023, sales were lower than in the same period a year earlier. The biggest decline was in the second and third quarters of 2023 with -18.3% and -15.7% respectively.

All product groups experienced a decline in sales in both value and volume. In construction elements, the decline in turnover was limited to 3% in value and 4.1% in volume. Other woodworking experienced a 5.4% drop in turnover. This is the result of a decrease in production volume (-16.9%) and a price increase of 11.5%. Turnover of the largest product group, panel products, fell 6.8% in value and 7.1% in volume at virtually unchanged prices (+0.3%). Packaging (mainly pallets) saw a sharp decline in sales by 36.4% in value and 23.9% in volume.

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Evolution of turnover by product group

Evolution in million euro - 2022 Evolution in million euro - 2023* Evolution in million euro - 23/22* Evolution in volume - 23/22*
Panel products 2,167.9 2,020.5 -6.8% -7.1%
Construction elements 1,098.3 1,065.5 -3.0% -4.1%
Packaging (incl. pallets) 967.8 615.4 -36.4% -23.9%
Other woodworking 277.6 262.6 -5.4% -16.9%
WOODWORKING INDUSTRY ** 4,511.6 3,964.0 -12.1% -11.5%

* Provisional data / ** Timber industry nace 16.2 / Source: FPS Economy, VAT returns

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Exports and imports declined sharply

Belgian wood exports fell 18% in 2023. 83% of these wood exports were destined for the EU market, where sales were down 19.1%. Deliveries to the French market, the main export market with a 30.3% share, fell 21.7%. Wood exports also decreased to the Netherlands, the second most important market with a 19.8% share, and Germany, the third market with a 15.7% share, by 17.4% and 19.7% respectively.

Outside the EU, the UK is the leading customer with a 5.3% share (-12.4% vs 2022) followed by the US with a 3.4% share (+8.4%).

Total wood imports saw a 23.9% dip. China, the largest supplier of wood products to our country with a 27.9% share, declined 32.5%.

Investments fell while employment declined slightly

The Production capacity utlisation rate in the woodworking industry fell to 74.7% on average in 2023; which is the lowest level in nine years (most recent peak 88.8% in 2021). In 2023, wood producers invested €168.8 million. This is a 25.4% decline after a 26.1% increase in 2022.

Employment declined marginally by 14 workers (-0.2%) to 7,946.

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Cautiously positive outlook for 2024

The business cycle curve of the woodworking industry, which reflects business confidence and is about three months ahead of actual economic activity, fell in January-February 2024. The gross curve rose in March. It remains to be seen whether this is the harbinger of a fledgling recovery.

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