India — the Illusive Market
Recently Brian Zak (CWG phytosanitary & market access rep) and I visited India. Our primary objective was to expedite the resolution of troublesome plant health and access barriers which were impeding the port clearance of some Canadian species into the market. In addition we wanted to get a feel for the wider opportunities and challenges of selling softwood lumber.
India is without question a fascinating place for the newcomer. Time seems to have stood still: the construction explosion so evident in China is noticeably absent. If one is well traveled in Asia, the temptation to make comparisons is irresistible. And perhaps that is a mistake because India, on second thought, seems unique and difficult to peg in an Asian context. It has its own customs, practices and preferences. It is a vast country in its own right with different peoples and regions. It has a history with wood, but one that’s at variance with the Asian experience.
Articulating a clear picture of the Indian wood opportunity after one trip is challenging. The timber trade is fragmented and far-flung. The historical preference for teak and other hardwoods remains strong and knowledge of softwoods weak. However internal and external supply pressures are pressing in and, like it or not, Indians will have to look for alternative sources of supply. Unlike China and Vietnam, India does not have a significant wood re-export business; so the combination of push and pull market dynamics does not apply.
Can India compete with the voracious appetite of China? Freight rates for West Coast shippers are high versus competitors. Plus importer terms of trade – if entertained – are unattractive. Yet some modest business is being done successfully at the present time. So India is worth a closer look. Where do the opportunities reside? Ask me again after a few more forays into the market!