By David Lindsay, President and CEO, Forest Products Association of Canada

Canada’s forest products industry is looking to 2015 with optimism about further prospects for growth.   After a difficult decade, the sector is once again on the move.

Last year, exports were up almost 10% in all three sectors of wood, pulp and paper.  Canadian forest products are now sold to more than 180 countries and are Canada’s number one export to China where exports increased 275% in the past decade.  Exports could get a further boost this year because of an expanding American economy, strong lumber prices and a lower Canadian dollar. 

On the productivity front, the Canadian forest products industry has improved its labour productivity at a rate of 3% a year since 2000. That’s more than four times the rate of the overall business sector in Canada.

Product and process innovation have also become the new engine of growth for the Canada forest products industry. The bio-economy, nano-technology and even 3d printing have become exciting opportunities for forest fibre.  The sector is striving to be a world leader in new products with help from the Canadian government including the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) program and research institutions such as FPInnovations. 

For example, two forest companies, Resolute and Mercer, have joined forces in Performance BioFilaments, to develop commercial uses for cellulose filaments, an exciting new bio-material that can be used in composites, coatings, consumer products and more.  Domtar has set up Celluforce to look for opportunities for crystalline nano-cellulose.  West Fraser is working to extract lignin from its black liquor recovery stream.

On the environmental front, a Leger Market survey of international customers released in 2014 showed that the Canadian forest products industry had the best environmental reputation in the world.

All of this is giving the Canadian sector a new confidence that is captured in Vision2020 which sets ambitious goals in the area of the economic growth, environmental credentials and employment. The economic objective is to generate another $20 billion in new products and markets by the end of the decade; the environmental objective is to further improve our environmental credentials by an additional 35% based on twelve parameters including greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water use and on-the-ground forest management; the employment goal is to refresh the workforce by recruiting an additional 60,000 workers.   

There is no doubt that Canadian industry is still facing challenges such as access to fibre and strong international competition.  However a Canadian-esque approach combining idealistic vision and pragmatism has meant that one of Canada’s oldest industries is now well positioned to offer jobs and prosperity well into the future.