In fact, I think it is fair to say that events at the beginning of 2012 have made it far more difficult. The downgrading of some European countries’ credit rating in January leaves even the so-called experts wondering what will happen to the single European currency. But then there are no experts, really, since it hasn’t happened before.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world goes on – probably still wondering how Europe got into such a mess in the first place.

However, a cautious approach is not restricted to Europe as Bernard Fuller’s excellent analysis of the economic situation in China reveals (p22). The long period of GDP growth in that country is finally faltering, he says. Economic activity slowed during 2011 due to concerns over inflation, a possible housing bubble (sound familiar?) and social and economic imbalances.

The Chinese government has acted to control these unwelcome trends, resulting in a slowing down of the economy being anticipated for 2012 and, importantly for our industry, a reduction in private housing growth with its consumption of panel products in construction and furnishing. Social housing is thought less likely to suffer a downturn given the need for acceptable-standard accommodation on a massive scale.

The biennial WMF exhibition, to be held in Beijing on March 12-15 this year, should provide an interesting barometer for how all this will pan out for the world’s panel manufacturing machinery sector.

In the meantime, I think there is much still to be done by the global wood products sector in promoting the advantages of wood based products. The sustainability/green debates should be playing into the hands of this industry, as well as the energy-efficiency credentials of wood used in construction.

Last year saw quite a lot of activity, particularly in Europe and North America, to draw attention to the issue of biomass energy generation and its distortion of the wood supply market – and its distortion of any kind of logic when it comes to carbon sequestration. Even more effort is needed on that issue going forward. For instance, in this issue, we have a very interesting article written by the sadly-missed Rick Massey before his untimely death, about cross-laminated timber (CLT). It can be argued whether it is solid wood or a panel product, but its eco-credentials are not in question.

Surely the future for this industry is to get those messages across: sustainability, carbon storage, energy efficiency, etc. We all know that. The question is, does the wider community?