When most people think about what USDA exports to countries all over the world, food is the first thing that comes to mind. But did you know that the United States exported nearly $7 billion in forestry products in 2010? These exports allow for the beauty and sustainability of U.S. forests to be shared through home furnishings in every corner of the world, including Thailand.
The United States is currently the fourth largest exporter of hardwood lumber to Thailand, following Malaysia, Laos and Myanmar, and U.S. exports were valued at $21.3 million in 2010. In 2010, the total Thailand furniture export market was valued at nearly $1.2 billion out of which $589 million was wooden furniture. The market is ripe for U.S. hardwood as Thai furniture exporters and manufacturers are required to follow sustainable development policies. Importing products from the United States helps the country avoid the use of illegal forestry techniques and timber sources.
In March, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney participated in the International Furniture Fair in support of the American hardwood industry and the Embassy’s Thai-U.S. Creative Partnership. For the third year in a row, the American Hardwood Design Camp Pavilion showcased furniture prototypes from its student competition. The Design Camp is a collaborative effort between the Thai Furniture Industries Association (TFA), King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL), the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service office at the Embassy of the United States in Bangkok, Thailand. As part of the fair, 10 teams of designers in association with eight furniture manufacturers produced beautiful pieces of furniture using U.S. cherry and oak. All teams focused on producing pieces while sticking to the theme: “Smart Designs for Small Space Saving.” In her remarks, the Ambassador praised the U.S. hardwood industry’s efforts in providing an environmentally-friendly product and recognized the young designers’ exceptional creations.
The Design Camp provides university students an opportunity to experience the furniture product design process under the guidance of experienced professionals, and encourages them to design furniture products that are both visually appealing and highly functional for real-life commercial use. It also demonstrates the aesthetics and possibilities of American hardwoods in new designs. As part of the furniture fair, the Design Camp created awareness among Thai furniture manufacturers of U.S. hardwood as a substitute for para-rubber wood. Para-rubber wood accounts for 90 percent of total wood usage in Thailand but is often in short supply due to high latex prices which discourage farmers from cutting trees for wood production.
This partnership provides a great example of the benefits attained when U.S. and Thai stakeholders work together. The success of programs like this is paramount to USDA’s commitment to achieving the goal of the President’s National Export Initiative to double overall U.S. exports by 2014. The program expects an increase in the market share of U.S. hardwood in the furniture industry of 10 percent with an approximate value of $60 million by 2015. Knock on wood.