Forest industry set for growth

Canada’s forestry industry says it is ready for a comeback and expects to add 60,000 new jobs by 2020.

OTTAWA — Canada’s forestry industry says it is ready for a comeback and expects to add 60,000 new jobs by 2020.

Industry executives unveiled a strategy for growth Thursday to generate an additional $20 billion in economic activity in the next eight years through expanded exports to emerging markets and a recovery in the United States.

As well, they have set a target of reducing their firms’ environmental footprint by 35 per cent in such areas as water usage, waste and air contaminants.

Catherine Cobden, interim president of the Forestry Products Association of Canada, said the sector had gone through a difficult few years following the collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2007 and the subsequent global recession.

Overall, the employment in the sector is down more than one-third from the 360,000 peak reached in 2005.

But Cobden said the industry has used the downturn to become more competitive, energy efficient, and to shift its attention to markets in the faster growing emerging economies, particularly China and India.

“We have faced a lot of economic challenges, shrinking markets, structural declines in some of our markets with the electronic age, currency challenges,” she said in a news conference.

“But we got busy … the Canadian forest industry is Canada’s leading exporter to China.”

Asia now accounts for about 28 per cent of Canada’s forest products exports, up from 11 per cent a decade earlier, the forest association said.

Sales of lumber to China in particularly have exploded, from a mere $32 million in 2001 to $1.5 billion last year, the association said. Including pulp and paper, total sales to China topped $4 billion in 2011.

Meanwhile, exports to the U.S. have fallen to 62 per cent of the total from 80 per cent during the same period.

Cobden said even with the recent cooling of China’s economy, exports continue to rise.

Tembec Inc. president Jim Lopez adds he believes the U.S. market is beginning to recover given recent growth in demand for lumber and building products, although he cautioned the newsprint sector is unlikely to return to previous levels.

In a report in December, the Conference Board predicted Canada’s wood producers would double profits in 2012 and add 6,000 workers, mainly because of gains in export markets.

The think-tank said industry profits were expected to rise to $565 million in 2012, and subsequently grow by more than 20 per cent annually for at least two additional years.

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