The Belgian panel makers’ association, Fedustria, and its member companies Unilin, Spanolux and Norbord, hosted the annual general meeting of the EPF this year and chose the beautiful (and European chocolate capital!) city of Bruges for the venue.

The EPF always holds its private, members only, meetings for two days and then hosts an open meeting for the press and EPF associate members (such as suppliers) on the fi nal morning.

Of these associate members, Typhoon and Vyncke were ‘Gold sponsors’, while Advachem, BASF, BNP Paribas Fortis, Borsod Chem, Govi, GreCon, Huntsman, KBC, Pöyry, Pulawy, Sasol and Tricoya were ‘Bronze sponsors’.

Filip de Jaeger, head of Fedustria, welcomed the delegates to the Grand Hotel Casselbergh and gave the background to the current situation in Belgium.

He told delegates that the industry there has an ongoing problem with the issue of biomass energy policies and pointed out the unusual features of the country in that it has three languages and six governments, with a complex political structure.

He advised that the Belgian panel sector turns over €1.25bn, employing 2,874 people. On the biomass issue, Mr de Jaeger said that the current situation in Belgium involves subsidies for the burning of fresh wood, making it harder for the woodworking industry to find and purchase wood as a raw material. The Flemish government has now stopped the subsidy to energy plants generating less than 20MW.

Fedustria employed the talents of a PR company called Magenta to present its case against the indiscriminate and subsidised burning of wood for energy. It did so with a very unusual and innovative ‘toilet’.

Back to the Hotel Casselbergh, where there followed a presentation by Vyncke of Belgium concerning its energy plants for the wood based panel industry.

Alastair Kerr, director general of the UK’s Wood Panel Industries Federation (WPIF), and chairman of the EPF Biomass Task Force, announced the European Wood Action Days which subsequently took place in the European Parliament building in Brussels on September 22-24 to present the industry’s case on biomass to the newly-elected members of parliament. He entreated all EPF members to attend. The logo was Wood for growth.

László Döry, honorary president of the EPF for the last 10 years, then presented the Annual Report of the federation covering 2013.

He began by saying that particleboard accounted for 56% of panel production in Europe (excluding Russia and Turkey); MDF 22%; hard/softboard 9%; OSB 8%; and plywood/blockboard 5%, with a total production of 51 million m3.

"The Euro-area was weaker than the rest of Europe [in the federation’s economic sentiment indicator] and construction confidence is still at a low level and seems to be going down again, with a few exceptions such as the UK," said Mr Döry.

Particleboard capacity – and production – fell by 1.5% over 2012 to a production of 28.4 million m3.

"Germany was the largest particle board producing country in Europe in 2013, accounting for somewhat less than one-fifth of the EU-EFTA production volume."

The top five producing countries were Germany, France, Poland, Italy and the UK, with the UK joining the club of producers of more than two million m3 in 2013, pointed out the president. Together, those five accounted for 57.6% of the total EU-EFTA production in 2013.

"The production capacity of MDF in 2013 fell by 4% and we foresee a further reduction in 2014, because of the closure of MDF Hallein in Austria, for example," said the president.

"However, following a significant drop of 6% in 2012, actual production of MDF increased by 2.1% in 2013, reaching 11.2 million m3, excluding Turkish and Russian production, so it seems to be improving. However, this production level remains significantly lower than the peak of 13.3 million m3 in 2007. With a stable output of about 3.5 million m3, Germany was still the largest European MDF producer in 2013. Poland kept its second position, while third to fifth positions have been redistributed among France, Spain and Italy.

"Their joint output accounted for a stable share of 77% in overall European MDF production.

"In 2013, MDF consumption in Europe remained quite flat and exceeded 10.2 million m3."

Turning his attention to OSB, Mr Döry said that this was the "champion" panel product, with home sales improving and production increasing "significantly" by 6% in 2013, to exceed 3.7 million m3. However, Mr Döry pointed out that this total is not correct and that there is some "undeclared capacity" in Oriented Strand Board.

Germany and Romania have the largest production capacities. "Wood costs for OSB are only up by 2%, compared to those for particleboard and MDF, which are up by 4 to 5%," he said.

Production of hardboard in Europe decreased by 5% over 2012 to reach almost 675,000m3, excluding Russia. Capacity in EU28 + EFTA countries was 874,000m3 in 2013, said the president.

Meanwhile, softboard production, including Norway and Switzerland, grew by 8%, exceeding the four million m3 threshold. Rigid board accounted for 68% of output and flexboard for 32%, advised Mr Döry.

"This product offers good opportunities for the future, due to [its use in] the insulation of buildings."

Turning to the general economic situation in Europe, the president said that it had started to improve gradually in Q1, 2014, but was still very uncertain, even six months ahead.

"Our industry is still fighting to get out of the economic downturn and has already proved successful in OSB and softboard – and in MDF, to a lesser extent," summarised Mr Döry. "Unfortunately, the markets for particleboard, and especially hardboard, have not yet shown a significant upturn."

The honorary president then summarised the work of the EPF.

"After many years of intense lobbying actions with a view to voicing the concerns of our sector, the years 2013 and 2014 can certainly be remembered as the years of important achievements. First of all, I would like to highlight that the European institutions have recognised the important role of wood products for climate change," said Mr Döry.

"On July 8 2013, through the coming into force of the European Decision ‘on accounting rules on greenhouse gas emissions and removals resulting from activities relating to land use, land use change and forestry and on information concerning actions relating to those activities’, the recognition of the contribution that an ‘increased sustainable use of harvested wood products can substantially limit emissions into, and enhance removal of greenhouse gases from, the atmosphere’ has become an official part of European legislation.

"With this decision, the EU Commission invites member states to ‘provide incentives for the use of harvested wood products with long life cycles’, as well as to take measures to ‘increase the pool of harvested wood products’."

The president said this imposes on all EPF members the need to continue to search for opportunities to enhance the use of wood products. He added that the EU has also recently recognised the importance of the "cascaded use of wood".

Mr Döry went on to summarise the important issues for the future of our industry:

We are not against the burning of wood for energy production, unless it is straight from the forest to the furnace

Formaldehyde has been reclassified but in a way we can live with

A new EU Norm has now been accepted for CO2 and is quantifiable in a product and this is an accepted fact in law

There is still no law about the content of recycled wood in products but the EPF has a standard in place.

"The EPF believes in the future of this industry because: we produce jobs; we invest in research; we are the key to a better environment," concluded Mr Döry.

The meeting continued with a presentation by Mrs Alessandra Tracogna of CSIL, Milan on the global furniture outlook and its implications for the European furniture industry.

Then Typhoon gave a talk on its de-dusters and pneumatic conveying systems.

The final presentation of the AGM was given on the use of Medite Tricoya in exterior environments, by Helen Wielders of Accsys Technologies.