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Don’t Tar All Chinese Wood Floors With The Same Brush

David Hillier, of LM Flooring, responds to Alex Davidson of Kahrs in CFJ (August 2014) and says there are big variations between Chinese wood flooring suppliers:

HAVING just read the article in CFJ (August 2014) from Alex Davidson, I felt I should provide some comment regarding Chinese producers of wood flooring.
First, it is important to recognise that there are a staggering amount of producers throughout China and significant variations occur (from both an ethical and quality perspective) between these producers.
The better quality Chinese factories support their products fully with guarantees and tend to offer quicker complaint resolution than many European producers, as they have a specific distribution agreements in place, which clearly identifies how service issues should be handled.
I act for LM Flooring in UK, Australia, Holland and Belgium. LM Flooring is a high quality one strip producer based in Shanghai. In common with Kährs, they offer a 30 year guarantee on 14.5mm thick boards and a 15 year guarantee on 12.7mm thick boards. This mirrors the terms and conditions included in the Kährs warranty and the product is fully supported in all European markets.
With regard to his assertion that 65% of the UK market is being supplied by China, it seems certain that Alex has spent a considerable amount of time researching imports into the UK from China, but I believe this overstates Chinese imports considerably.
As a regular visitor to China, I have discussed the European market (and the UK in detail) with many producers who have seen their sales steadily decline as a direct result of the low prices being offered by European producers.
It should be remembered that China is no longer the automatic cost leader – all factories have government mandated salary increases for the work force on an annual basis. The rates of pay vary by region, but in the Shanghai area this increase has been as high as 10% annually for the last 5 years. By contrast the salary levels in many Eastern European countries are close to the same level as parts of China and they do not have to import the raw material from Europe.
Take this into consideration and it is no surprise that the Polish producers occupy over 18% of European production and the Baltic states are now jumping on the bandwagon.
Whilst the UK market is not reflected in the statistics published by FEP www.parquet.net it is always worth considering the picture in Europe as a whole, their website does provide a clear insight into the European market from the perspective of production and consumption, which does little to support the notion that the UK imports 65% of its wood flooring consumption from China.
In recent years Kährs has been importing material from China, which has been sold under the Kährs brand. A large part of this has been sold in the German market, as the Chinese were able to hand finish boards to match that markets demand, which was not possible in Sweden.
My sources tell me that the amount that Kährs imports has now slowed, as the factory in Nybro has evolved to be able to accommodate the requirements of the German market. It is, of course, possible that a larger proportion of European factories are still importing material from China to be sold under a European brand, in which case Alex may be more accurate.
Much depends upon the source of Alex’s information, customs statistics would report movements into the UK from China, but would not comment on movements of Chinese products into the UK from distributors based in other European countries. If the customs statistics are the base for his assessment there is always the possibility that importers have used the wrong codes in their declarations.
Of course the Country of Origin should always be very clear on the package, but it is possible for part fabricated material to be imported before being machined and finished in Europe. If this were the case, the country of origin can be changed to the country that adds the greatest value to the product.
One thing is certain, the situation is very complicated and it is simply not possible to get an exact picture.
With regard to your footnote, I fully agree with your sentiment concerning illegal logging from any source outside of Europe and North America. It must be said however, that buying material in China is less risky than it once was if you follow the EUTR regulations.
The implementation of EUTR in March 2013 places the responsibility to ensure legality of supply with the importer that first places material in the European market, these ‘Operators’ must operate an appropriate due diligence process to confirm legality of source for all materials.
The National Measurement Office has already been conducting meetings to determine if the systems being used are appropriate, over time this will force illegally logged material from the producers supply chain.
From an LM perspective for the UK, I have worked closely with Havwoods (our UK distributor) to ensure that they have all the information they need to satisfy themselves that the material we supply is from legal sources.
For your interest, we use European Oak (PEFC from France or Germany) as well as Black Walnut, Hard Maple, Cherry and Hickory (FSC controlled wood from North America) for surface material.
The core is plantation grown in China (Eucalyptus Grandis) and reaches maturity five times faster than Pine grown in Sweden.
I hope you will be able to put the record straight, there are legitimate well run factories in China that do protect their supply chain from illegal material and fully support their product in the market.

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at www.contractflooringjournal.co.uk.