My trip to South East Asia in late November/early December 2008 (see our Focus on SE Asia in this issue) turned out to be rather more ‘interesting’ than I had anticipated.

I started my tour in Bangkok, spending a couple of days there and visiting Metro-Ply before flying down to Hat Yai in the south. The day after I arrived in Thailand, demonstrators decided to blockade Bangkok’s two airports (Suvarnabhumi international and Don Muang domestic) in the first of what became escalating political demonstrations there.

However, My Hat Yai flight left an apparently normal Don Muang at 6.05am. At 06.25, according to the next day’s newspapers, a bomb went off there. I was lucky, as both airports then closed for several days.

I had planned to return to Bangkok after Hat Yai, but instead took a taxi over the border into northern Malaysia and a plane from Alor Setar to Kuala Lumpur to continue my tour of mills in that country. At least my plane didn’t land in the Hudson River!

The shocking terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, soon eclipsed Thailand’s problems and replaced them on the world news bulletins. Not a good end to 2008, which was already turning into a financially disastrous year, as we all know only too well.

Unfortunately, this year did not start any better, with the war in Gaza taking over the headlines – but only just – from the global economic collapse. As I write this column, the financial news continues to worsen, and I feel like apologising for the number of sad stories of mill closures and downtime in our news pages. I can only say: “Don’t shoot the messenger – it’s not my fault”!

On the other hand, Bernard Fuller of Cambridge Forest Products Associates (CFPA) has ‘put his head above the parapet’ for us in this issue, giving his considered assessment of the future for the North American wood panel industry. It is not all doom and gloom as you might expect, although recovery is not predicted before 2010 at the earliest. That recovery in the US will, believes CFPA, be led by pent-up housing demand.

I recommend you turn to p52 and see what Bernard has to say. Whether you agree or not, he and I would be very interested to hear from you and to get an exchange of views going on this important issue. Please contact me on

In the meantime, we must continue to hope for world peace, safe airports (!) and some solution to the world’s financial woes.