Everything is happening as if the 300 million euros of the Recovery plan reserved for the sector stirred up hatred between French professionals in the wood and forests. A few days before the Sectoral Assizes organized by the government, the Syndicates of operators of the timber industry (SEFB), which has brought together since 2016 “in a constructive and unifying spirit”, the vast majority of forest operators and traders are attacking a another lobby, that of sawyers and processors grouped together in the National Timber Federation (FNB).
“Manipulation and bad faith”
The latter are accused by the former of “bad faith” and “intellectual manipulation”. At the heart of the controversy, a study published this summer by the FNB, widely reported by the media, according to which owners and traders organize “wild exports” of logs (unprocessed wood), in particular to China, which would threaten the survival of the tricolor sawyers and would constitute an “ecological aberration”. Assertions denied in an eight-page counter-study of the SEFB, for which the FNB sawyers want to “dirty the image of our forests”. Note that this Chinese export business has been shaking up and tearing the sector apart for years. A public controversy had already taken place in 2018.
The FNB, on July 9, therefore published an analysis based on Chinese customs figures according to which, over the first five months of 2021, no less than 187,167 cubic meters of French oaks in this country, an increase of 42% compared to the same period of 2020. The SEFB admits that “there is currently a one-off increase in these exports”. But “it is in line with the average of the last six years”. As for the change of 42%, it would mainly be linked to the economic slowdown linked to covid in 2020.
While the FNB has launched a petition to stop the “bleeding”, the SEFB publishes data according to which during the private and public sales held from April to June 2021, 83% of the oak lots were bought not by foreigners , but “by French sawyers and processors”. When the FNB accuses other countries of “siphoning off” our forests, mainly because of political decisions, the SEFB retorts that it has nothing to do with it. “Romania, which has just taken an export ban, has seen its shipments collapse since March,” explains the FNB, for example. Response from SEFB: “This is an abusive extrapolation of statements dating back to December 5, 2019 by the then environment minister, Alexe Costel. “
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In such a climate of internal war, the government has not given up on spending public money. Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on July 24 during a trip to a Vendée sawmill that as part of the recovery plan, an additional 100 million euros will be redeployed for the wood industry (in addition to the 200 million already planned). The timber industry, which represents 400,000 jobs in France, has been set up as a priority by the government. Several ministries (Agriculture, Industry, Foreign Trade, Ecological Transition, etc.) are mobilized to prepare for the Assises which should be held by the end of September and the Prime Minister has already warned: “professionals must organize themselves and take their responsibilities. . “
Matignon alongside the sawyers
Yet – fruit of the FNB’s awareness campaign? – Jean Castex seems to have chosen his camp. On July 23, according to Matignon, the government appealed to the European Commission to take “safeguard measures under commercial jurisdiction, so as to avoid the plundering of our forest resources”. Jean Castex also asked the National Forestry Office (ONF) to develop as much as possible supply contracts with French sawmills to “prevent” wood productions from state forests being sold at auction, exposing themselves to “The action of traders” exporting outside Europe. Suffice to say that the Prime Minister is more on the side of the sawyers.
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