February 14, 2014

UW helps protect $30 million to $40 million in U.S. wood exports to Japan

News and Information

By showing the economic benefit to Japanese saw mills, a University of Washington researcher has helped protect U.S. exports of Douglas-fir logs and lumber worth $30 million to $40 million a year.

A recently introduced homebuilding subsidy program in Japan put logs and lumber imported from the U.S. and other countries at a competitive disadvantage, according to Ivan Eastin, UW professor of environmental and forest sciences. Working with the U.S. embassy in Tokyo and the U.S. Softwood Export Council, Eastin led efforts to get Douglas-fir logs and lumber from the U.S. approved under the new program.

eight boards with special notched ends for post-and-beam construction

I Eastin/U of Washington

Douglas-fir cut into lumber for post-and-beam home construction in Japan.

“Though many nations – including Canada, our largest competitor in the Japanese market – have attempted to qualify for the [Wood Use Point Program] benefits, the United States alone has succeeded,” David Miller, minister-counselor for agricultural affairs with the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, wrote in a Feb. 6 letter.

“It is no exaggeration to say this would not have been possible without the persistence of Dr. Eastin and his team,” he wrote.

Under the Wood Use Point Program, homeowners and builders receive financial incentives to use domestic wood products that provide “economic benefits to rural and mountain communities in Japan.” Lumber produced from Japanese timber species such as sugi, hinoki and larch, and milled in rural communities, meet the requirements. Indeed, the subsidy program is meant to increase the use of Japan’s domestic wood species.

But U.S. Douglas-fir logs processed in Japan also provide the required economic benefit, which Eastin and his team demonstrated by modifying a Japanese economic model and applying it to Douglas-fir sawmills located in four of Japan’s 47 prefectures. They essentially got Douglas-fir approved as a “local wood” under the program. Collaborating with Eastin was Daisuke Sasatani, a doctoral student of Eastin’s now working as a post-doc at Auburn University.

“While Douglas-fir is not indigenous to Japan, it is highly popular with local builders because of its unique combination of high-bending strength, durability, aesthetic appeal and reliability of supply,” Eastin said.

Under the Wood Use Point Program, builders using more than 50 percent of approved species for construction receive points worth as much as 600,000 yen ($5,850) that could be used for other home products such as energy-efficient windows or wooden furniture. The initial 18-month program is widely expected to be extended, Eastin said.

Center for International Trade in Forest Products logo“The size of the subsidy is huge,” said Eastin, who has worked for more than 20 years in Japan and other countries, and is director of the UW’s Center for International Trade in Forest Products.

“The U.S. forest products industry stood to lose substantial market share as a result of these subsidies since Douglas-fir represents almost 90 percent of our log and lumber exports to Japan,” he said. “By having U.S. Douglas-fir recognized as ‘local wood,’ U.S. exporters have gained a competitive advantage and could actually increase their sales of Douglas-fir logs and lumber to Japan.”

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For more information:
Eastin, 206-543-1918, eastin@uw.edu

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