TIMCON AGM: Irish Government backs forest-based industry success, expert believes Brexit unlikely to go ahead

Irish government minster Mary Mitchell O’Connor told members of the wooden pallet and packaging sector that Ireland’s successful forest based sectors can expect continued growth in the future.

Speaking at the agm of the Timber Packaging & Pallet Confederation (TIMCON), held in Dublin at the beginning of September, O’Connor, Minister of State for Further Education, said wooden pallets and packaging are “absolutely essential” to effective trade and that this sector is benefiting from well-planned planting programs and robust economic growth forecasts.

“We have seen sustained investment in the timber sector in recent years, which has become a highly competitive and automated industry,” she said. “It’s had one of the largest r&d investments compared to the size of the industry so it has not only survived but also flourished during a recession. Plantings in 1980s and 1990s have set the foundations for future growth. This will lead to the doubling of the forest harvest over the next five years.”

Mitchell O-Connor added that the Irish government is targeting 17% land coverage by forests across Ireland – up from the current 7 per cent – by 2050. It is supporting private forest plantings to help it achieve this goal.

Meanwhile, she said, the Irish government will be giving its trading relationship with the UK particular attention as Brexit negotiations play out over the coming months. Ireland’s priorities are to protect the peace process, eschewing economic borders between the two countries and retaining a common travel area.

“It’s not an either/or choice for Ireland,” she said. “We want our future relationship with the UK to be as close and as positive as possible. The UK matters to us, in every sense. Brexit is a critical matter in our long-term economic strategy.”

At the meeting, TIMCON members said Brexit has exacerbated the ongoing challenge of high timber prices, while availability issues continued to cause concern. Representatives of the sawmilling sector said contrary to the usual seasonal fall in timber prices they are expecting further prices rises in wood during quarter 4.

The subject of Brexit was addressed by Daniel Guéguen, Head of Strategy and Lobbying at Brussels-based training and consultancy firm PACT European Affairs In his presentation to the agm entitled “Brexit: a yes, a no, or a never-ending story?”, he said he believed Brexit was unlikely to go ahead.

Guéguen said there had been a worrying lack of progress in moving Brexit forward since Article 50 had been triggered, with little clarity on key issues such as the exit bill, status of European and UK ex-pat residents, the border with Northern Ireland and the location of the UK/France border for immigration control purposes.

There are 1,685 European directives and 12,410 technical regulations that currently govern the UK, said Guéguen. “All of these are still in force in the UK the day after Brexit and the UK will still be governed by EU law,” he said. The UK would then be able to modify its own legislation, he said, a process that would take “decades”.

The most important consideration, he said, was the issue of trade. “As the UK and the EU are both members of the WTO they will have to negotiate official WTO agreements in accordance with article 24 of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade), before the entry into force of the trade part of any future EU/UK agreement,” he said. A WTO panel would also be needed to analyze the implications of the departure of a member state from the customs union; a process that would take up to nine months to complete.

An approximate 100 bilateral and multilateral trade agreements between the EU and other countries and further agricultural agreements with the Commonwealth – such as those favoring New Zealand lamb or sugar from Mauritius – would also need renegotiating.

“The EU is something special and it’s nearly impossible to leave if you’re a big country,” he said. “I am convinced that Brexit will not happen. It is not feasible politically, economically and technically,” he said. “There is no benefit for anybody. Certainly not for the UK and certainly not for the EU.”

Concluding, he said he believed Brexit should be regarded as an opportunity to reform the EU, into an inner circle comprising of the Eurozone, and an outer circle including the UK, Scandinavia and former Eastern Bloc countries. To have a sustainable Euro, he said, the inner circle would need full integration of elements such as taxation, budgets and retirement schemes. The outer circle, meanwhile, would not be integrated in this way but would be part of a European free-trade zone.

In his annual speech to the meeting, TIMCON president John Dye said the organization would maintain its vital European links through its ongoing membership and active position in FEFPEB. In an update on the European pallet and packaging association’s recent activities, former TIMCON president and FEFPEB treasurer Gil Covey added that this view was echoed recently by the president of the European pallet and packaging association, Rob van Hoesel.

Covey added that TIMCON’s initiatives such as the pallet and packaging timber price index; pallet drying research project; fire prevention code; annual pallet and packaging industry national market survey; and its involvement on the European Packaging from Nature PR campaign and ISPM 15, demonstrated the central role TIMCON has in FEFPEB.

Dye added TIMCON would also maintain its strong relationships with other international organizations, including the NWPCA.

The agm also received an update on the Irish sawmilling sector by Mike Glennon of Glennon Bros. Opportunities for the industry include an increasing supply of logs, Ireland’s strong economic growth, housing construction, off-site construction and the development of new products. Challenges, meanwhile, are the risks of overcapacity in production, the price of logs, mobilisation of wood, competition for fiber, a deficit in planting and an imbalance of supply and demand.

President John Dye said: “The TIMCON agm is always a highlight on our industry’s calendar, providing members with the latest updates on the issues affecting our sector, along with the opportunity to network and discuss the business. This year’s program was incredibly strong, with presentations on essential subjects including Brexit, and information and debate on the latest developments. It was a great example of our association’s service to its membership.”

The TIMCON agm took place in Dublin on September 4th and 5th.

For more information, visit: www.timcon.org