C.T. “Kip” Howlett Jr. is the president of the Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Association (HPVA) in Reston, VA. HPVA represents the North American manufacturers of hardwood plywood, veneer and engineered flooring, and their value chain including suppliers, distributors and fabricators.
HPVA develops national consensus standards for the industry, provides laboratory testing and certification services, promotes the products of its members, and represents the industry in public policy venues.
Timber Products Company recently caught up with Howlett to discuss the state of the industry and timely wood products issues.
Timber Products: How did the domestic hardwood plywood business fare in the recent recession? Were there many plant closures?
Howlett: A dozen companies went out of business in the veneer and hardwood plywood sector, reducing production capacity by 25 percent and reducing the operating rates to only 40 percent. Operating rates are still below 45 percent for the industry, and total production actually fell last year from 2011 levels. As the economy in general and housing specifically continues its slow rebound, U.S. manufacturers are poised to meet growing demand with quality produced North American hardwood plywood. We can certainly produce enough to meet demand.
TP: Several of your members are part of a coalition that filed an unfair trading petition with the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission regarding hardwood plywood imported from China. Why did they take this action?
Howlett: Chinese producers of hardwood plywood have a 50 percent U.S. market share and are supported by that Communist government’s export policies and programs which subsidize their industry, as well as clear indications of dumping product below cost into the U.S. market. These practices are in violation of U.S. trade law. The U.S. Commerce Department’s preliminary determinations confirmed these practices. Final determinations of the amount of the antidumping and countervailing duties will be made in September. The International Trade Commission will hold a hearing in September on whether to put those duties in place for five years. (Note: The U.S. DOC ruled in favor of the antidumping petition supported by the HPVA in mid-September.)
TP: The latest version of LEED has been approved by the USGBC. What are your thoughts on how this program treats certified wood like hardwood plywood?
Howlett: The latest LEED program continues its preference for only FSC certified wood, which forecloses a significant portion of sustainably managed North American hardwoods from qualifying for that LEED point. An encouraging development is the introduction of Life Cycle Analysis of competing substitute materials to wood which is a renewable resource that permanently sequesters the 50 percent carbon in wood during its product life. Wood has always been the truly “green” material.
TP: Give us an update on the federal EPA rules on formaldehyde emissions for composite panels.
Howlett: Following the California formaldehyde regulatory emission standards for composite woods products including hardwood plywood, the federal EPA is nationalizing those performance requirements. As a California 3rd Party Certifier, over 80 percent of the hardwood plywood produced in North America has achieved low enough emission levels to qualify for exemption from the most stringent of the limits.
TP: What major trends do you see taking shape with your industry in the next few years? Will veneer core continue to dominate customer demand?
Howlett: Veneer core hardwood plywood will continue to hold its 65 percent market share because of its performance properties. Other cores provide performance and price points for specific applications. American-produced veneer core hardwood plywood offers a clear quality advantage with the consistency of veneer thicknesses, consistency of the resin bonds across the panel and within the panel, and the aesthetics of maple, birch, cherry, oak and other hardwoods indigenous to North America. It is an American “quality advantage.”