This past December, Professor Ivan Eastin of the Center for International Trade in Forest Products (CINTRAFOR) successfully teamed up with Dr. Daisuke Sasatani at Auburn University, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, and the Softwood Export Council to have Douglas-fir designated as a “local species” under a new softwood lumber subsidy program recently introduced in Japan. This is great news for the U.S. timber industry, ensuring that Douglas-fir grown and harvested in the U.S. Pacific Northwest maintains its access to the Japanese market.
Douglas-fir logs being prepared for delivery to a local sawmill in Hiroshima.
The Wood Use Points Program, or WUPP, is a program designed to provide the domestic forestry and sawmill sectors in Japan with a competitive advantage by subsidizing the increased use of “local wood” species—such as sugi, hinoki and Japanese larch—in residential home construction. Homeowners and builders who use more than 50 percent of a “local wood” species in structural and non-structural end-use applications can receive as much as ¥600,000 in points. While the points don’t have a cash value, they can be redeemed for other products, such as energy-efficient windows or wooden furniture. “The size of the subsidy is huge,” says Eastin, the director of CINTRAFOR and lead author of the U.S. “local wood” submission. “The U.S. forest products industry stood to lose substantial market share as a result of these subsidies.”
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. Douglas-fir is widely used in horizontal beam applications in traditional post and beam houses in Japan. In fact, more than 90 percent of the softwood products exported from the U.S. to Japan are Douglas-fir. Without gaining the “local wood” designation for U.S. Douglas-fir, the WUPP subsidy would have sharply reduced the demand for Douglas-fir products in Japan. A recent CINTRAFOR analysis estimates that the WUPP could have cost U.S. forest products exporters as much as $36 million over the 18-month duration of the subsidy program.
Douglas-fir precut lumber that will be used in traditional post and beam housing in Japan.
CINTRAFOR, an internationally recognized center of excellence located within the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington, worked closely with Dr. Sasatani, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the Softwood Export Council to demonstrate that U.S. Douglas-fir complied with the criteria established by the Japan Forestry Agency for gaining recognition as a “local wood” species. To make their case, CINTRAFOR needed to document that U.S. Douglas-fir satisfied three conditions: 1) that it is sustainably grown, 2) that it is legally harvested, and 3) that Douglas-fir wood products provide economic benefits to rural and mountain communities in Japan.
The first two conditions were fairly easy to demonstrate using forest inventory data provided by the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program of the U.S. Forest Service. To demonstrate compliance with the third criterion, an economic model was developed to estimate the economic contribution derived from processing Douglas-fir logs to lumber in sawmills located within four prefectures in Japan. Each of the “local wood” submissions was translated into Japanese by Dr. Sasatani with support from Tomoko Igarashi, the director of the American Softwoods Office in Tokyo.
It took three submissions—one in August, another in October, and then a third in December—before Japan’s National Land Afforestation Promotion Organization finally approved the inclusion of U.S. Douglas-fir under the WUPP program on December 17. This recognition marks the first, and only, case where an imported wood species has received “local wood” status under the WUPP program, and the designation will help U.S. forest products exporters maintain, and potentially increase, their market share within the Japanese market.
Photos © Ivan Eastin.