For some of us it does not seem all that long ago when our nightly news casts were focused on the casualties and politics of the war in Vietnam.  Images on the old tube TV seemed to show an impoverished third-world nation struggling in so many ways. Decades of internal and external forces battered an otherwise beautiful landscape, and for a while it seemed to have been relegated to the history books as another victim of war.

Times have certainly changed, as has Vietnam.  Though we’ve mentioned this country’s increasing interest in our hardwood resource over the last several years, the latest issue of the Hardwood Weekly Review (WHR, February 12, 2021) provides an excellent overview of how Vietnam has set itself up as an emerging country that has come quite far in its social and economic development since the 1970’s!

Vietnam has managed to nearly triple its Gross Domestic Product per capita “in a 16-year span (2002-2018), lifting over 45 million people out of poverty.” Vietnam’s resilient economy has been and is supported by a “strong domestic demand and export-oriented manufacturing.  Vietnam is one of the few nations not concerned about a recession, is showing signs of prolonged strength in hardwood demand, and the impacts of the pandemic were not as severe as other nations.” (1)

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy of Vietnam “grew by 2.9% in 2020, the largest of any Asian country.”  All four economic quarters in 2020 were positive, and it has been forecast by Bank of America that its economic growth will be a whopping 9.3% this year.  Helping this to happen is the relocation of the supply chain out of China, and predictions are that Vietnamese exports will continue to grow over the coming years. Like the US, Vietnam has brokered a few international trade agreements as well, in particular and of note are the two with both the European Union and the United Kingdom. (2)

The country’s infrastructure and related services “have significantly improved over the last 30 years,” having “tripled since 2010, and as of 2016, 99% of the population used electricity as its primary source of energy.”  The availability of clean water access has substantially improved in both urban and rural areas of the country. (3)

It seems that the most negatively affected part of Vietnam’s economy due to the pandemic has been its tourist industry.  Though it’s been reported that tourism had picked up by the end of 2020, indications are that it will take a while to fully recover from the current world-wide health crisis.

Population changes in terms of numbers and age cohorts have been interesting to see, as well.  It was reported that Vietnam’s total population in 2019 was 96.2 million people and is predicted “to reach 120 million by 2050.” Of the current population, approximately 56% is under 35 years of age, and they have an average “life expectancy of 76 years.”  Also, of interest is that while only 13% of the population is considered “middle class,” it is expected that this will double to 26% in 5 years (by 2026).  This bodes well for increasing the demand potential for US hardwood imports into the country. (4)

Focusing on the impacts of Vietnam’s emergence on the US hardwood market, it is an impressive and promising story.  To quote directly from the WHR, “Vietnam has come a long way in a short period of time to become a top market for U.S. hardwood lumber exports.  In 2000, exports to Vietnam totaled less than 700,000 board feet (700 MBF). Just a year later, exports surged to 3.8 million board feet (3.8 MMBF) and then to 11.2 MMBF the year after that.  By 2010, total hardwood export volumes to Vietnam had increased 150-fold from 2000 volumes.”  By 2011, “Vietnam had become the third-largest global market for U.S. Hardwoods, behind China and Canada.”  And although export demand from Vietnam “…fell sharply in 2015-2016, they recovered in 2017-2018 and have held strong since, solidifying Vietnam’s position as a top market for U.S. hardwoods.” (5)

The same trends hold true for Vietnam’s demand for U.S. hardwood logs.  Demand had been “minimal in 1999-2000 and didn’t start to pick up until 2001.  Surges in each of the next seven years, however, pushed volumes higher 30-fold.  Log export volumes held mostly steady from 2008-2011, before going through a period of volatile activity from 2013-2018. Log exports surged again in 2019, to a record high of 165,718 m3, and while 2020 volumes were off 11%, they are still the second highest ever.” (6)

In terms of species demand, although Vietnam enjoys the importing of a variety of hardwoods, it has its favorites.  In particular, Vietnam has become the world’s largest importer of poplar. In 2003, Vietnam purchased 378 MBF of poplar, and by 2018, that demand increased to 109 MMBF (almost a 288-fold increase). Demand decreased through the first and second quarters of 2020 because of the pandemic, but “shipments surged 88% in June,” returning to “pre-pandemic levels, and held strong through the end of the year.”

The country’s interest in white oak has improved from almost zero imports in the early 2000s “to becoming the second-largest export market in the late 2010s, only trailing China.” By 2010, export volumes were at 23 MMBF, and by 2019, export volumes had risen to 46 MMBF. “White oak shipments to Vietnam were on an upward trend entering 2020 but fell from February through May.  However, the demand began picking up again, with “surges of 72% in August and 29% in October.” (7)

Red oak is the “third-most exported species to Vietnam, but it has seen more aggressive increases in exports in recent years than any other export.”

Red oak is the “third-most exported species to Vietnam, but it has seen more aggressive increases in exports in recent years than any other export.”

Red oak is the “third-most exported species to Vietnam, but it has seen more aggressive increases in exports in recent years than any other export.” In the eight years from 1996 through 2004, Vietnam’s demand for red oak averaged only 209 MBF.  Demand trended up a bit in the “mid-2000s but trended downward through 2009. In 2010, however, exports quadrupled to a total of 3.3 MMBF”, and increased demand for this species “has not shown any signs of slowing down.” After the initial impacts of the pandemic, red oak demand from Vietnam jumped to “record levels” in July and August of 2020, and “held well above historic norms in October and November.”

Another favorite of the Vietnamese markets is our black walnut. Indications are that demand began at very small levels back in the mid-1990’s, and began increasing in the mid 2000’s, until about 2013 when it increased exponentially.  Exports of walnut (now upwards of 12 MMBF annually) continue to rapidly increase through 2020, and has now surpassed Canada in demand, only trailing China at this point.

Vietnam has changed substantially in a variety of ways since the Vietnam War, both culturally and certainly economically.  It has become a very significant player in its demand for many of our hardwood species as market opportunities for its consumer products grow, which obviously bodes well for our forest landowners.  We will certainly keep our eye on where the continuing increase in their love for US hardwoods goes.

(1) – (8) Hardwood Weekly Review, “Trends in Vietnamese Demand – Rapid Growth Has Done Wonders for Vietnam’s Log and Lumber Demand”, February 12, 2021, Vol. 36, Issue 21.

As always, if you have timber you may be interested in selling, and want a long-standing professional forestry firm representing your best interests in the process, please don’t hesitate to call any of our FORECON offices.  Our foresters would be very happy to speak with you about the markets, and more importantly, your goals and objectives for your land.

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