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S.C., Virginia reenter export log trade with China

Logs are loaded onto a truck in Allendale County, headed for a pulpwood processing facility. Other wood is harvested for building and construction. (Photo/Leslie Burden)
Logs are loaded onto a truck in Allendale County, headed for a pulpwood processing facility. Other wood is harvested for building and construction. (Photo/Leslie Burden)
Staff Report
Published Nov. 21, 2012

NORFOLK, Va. — Southern yellow pine logs harvested from forests in Virginia and South Carolina are steaming to China as part of a pilot program to restore the log trade.

The first shipment of 800 logs in 20 containers left last week from the Wando Terminal at the Port of Charleston after the Chinese government earlier this year lifted a ban against logs from the Palmetto State and Virginia.

Virginia logs started heading to China from the Port of Virginia in June.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell
China agreed to a six-month pilot program that’s expected to re-open that critical market to hardwood and softwood logs Virginia and South Carolina states following lengthy negotiations with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“China is our second largest agricultural trade partner and the ban was negatively impacting both Virginia’s exporters and our valued customers in China,” said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

In April 2011, China banned both hardwood and softwood log exports from Virginia and South Carolina, citing pest interceptions on logs exported from the United States.

Then in April of this year, as part of ongoing technical discussions with Chinese plant health officials, including information sharing and discussion of an export pilot program, state and federal agencies hosted a visit by Chinese officials to see log production, inspection and fumigation and shipping locations in Virginia and South Carolina.

Under the terms of the agreement, logs exported to China during the pilot program must meet all existing export requirements, as well as certain additional requirements for fumigations, enhanced pinewood nematode testing, inspections, and ports of entry.

When the program ends Dec. 31, and if all logs exported to China meet quarantine requirements, the Chinese government has agreed to formally reopen the market for exports of logs from Virginia and South Carolina.

“It was a pretty quick turnaround from the time the Chinese delegation was here to the time we got the answer,” said Jerry Bridges, executive director of the Virginia port agency.

“We have all the necessary processes in place for safe export of this cargo. If it goes well for six months, as we suspect it will, we will start to recapture this business.”

The logs shipped last week from Charleston were sourced from the Walterboro area and exported by Garley Forest Products, a Mississippi.-based company that recently located in the Charleston area to take advantage of the Chinese pilot program.

The pilot program means additional steps to prepare the logs for export, but that it is worth it to reopen the log trade with China, said Leigh Allen, president of Garley.

“The key to getting it done was working closely with the regulators at USDA to make sure the protocol was followed correctly,” Allen said. “They were a huge help.”

In addition to exporting logs to China, Allen said his company is also shipping to India and Vietnam. He said that the Southeast is producing more pine logs than local mills demand, so export markets help balance supply and demand.

Demand in Asia for Southern pine is a growth market that is here to stay, Allen said. Builders in that region use imported pine because the hardwood that is plentiful in Asia is too brittle to be used in construction.

Demand also is driven by the homebuilding industry in India and China, which is greatly outpacing the U.S. market, Allen said.

“We feel good about the market,” Allen said. “It’s a great opportunity for the landowners in the Southeast, especially near the deep-water ports that serve the Far East.”

South Carolina exports about $1.3 billion in forest products annually and the industry’s economic impact totals more than $17 billion, according to the state Forestry Commission.

Sales of Virginia forest products industry totaled $11.5 billion in 2011.

The United States exported more than $7.7 billion in forestry products last year, supporting more than 65,000 jobs. Nearly 25% of those exports landed in China, the second largest market for U.S. timber.

Seaports in Virginia and South Carolina handled more than half-a-billion-dollars in U.S. forestry exports last year.