American ash joinery and furniture installed at Go Green Oman supermarket.

Promoting American hardwood products in the global market given the difficulties imposed by current coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge for the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), a non-profit trade association.

Undaunted however, AHEC has – like many organisations – moved more into the digital realm, using platforms like Zoom to communicate and hold virtual conferences, workshops and seminars in place of physical meetings, Roderick Wiles, AHEC Regional Director, tells Gulf Construction.

“We have also spent more time refining and retuning our existing website, social media and communication platforms. Most importantly, we have developed a brand new technical publication ‘A Guide to Sustainable American Hardwoods’, which is available in print and online (https://www.americanhardwood.org/en/library/publications/sustainable-american-hardwoods-a-guide-to-species) and will soon be available in Arabic,” says Wiles, who is based in Dubai.

Wiles poses on one of the Covid-proof benches which were displayed at Dubai Design Week. He is seen here with the Emirati designers.

Wiles poses on one of the Covid-proof benches which were displayed at Dubai Design Week. He is seen here with the Emirati designers.

The guide brings together American hardwood species and grading guides, complete with lavishly illustrated application case studies. Its aim is to provide a publication that ‘informs, educates and inspires’ and meet the needs of a broad audience, from timber traders, through end-users to specifiers.

The 100-page publication reflects on the increasing international market concern about the environment and climate crisis, and is sharply focused on the sustainability and legality of the American hardwood resource. It details the comprehensive legality risk assessment commissioned by AHEC, its American Hardwood Environmental Profile (AHEP) documentation and features an interactive map showing forest distribution, growth and timber removal.

Further highlighting renewability, each species section gives the time taken by the forest to regrow a cubic metre – derived from AHEC’s online life-cycle assessment tool.

Commenting on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, he says while AHEC’s staff and premises are not affected, “the difficulty lies in running a multi-faceted, multi-targeted programme of promotion across many different markets, when travel is not possible, events are postponed or cancelled and when markets are so slow,” he explains.

During the pandemic, AHEC collaborated with three Emirati designers last year to develop Covid-proof benches made from American hardwoods. The benches, which were made from thermally-modified red oak, hard maple and tulipwood, were designed in such a way as to enforce social distancing, while also being easily convertible to full seating capacity as and when required. They were displayed at Dubai Design Week in November 2020, Wiles remarks.    

So how has business been in the region?

American ash joinery at Akin At The Beach, Dubai.

American ash joinery at Akin At The Beach, Dubai.

Wiles says: “Unsurprisingly, exports of American hardwoods to the Middle East region were down quite significantly last year, as compared to 2019. Construction sector activity is the main driver of demand in the region and this took a substantial downturn last year. Overall, exports of US hardwood lumber to the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region were down by 26 per cent in volume, as compared to the previous year. To Saudi Arabia, specifically, they were down by 45 per cent in volume in 2020, as compared to 2019.”

Saudi Arabia has long been a strong market for American hardwoods, holding its position within the top five markets in the Mena region for the past 25 years. AHEC is confident that it will continue to hold this position and also to grow substantially in the coming years, as its multi-billion-dollar giga-projects are completed,” Wiles points out.

“We are close by, with representation in Dubai and we hope to be able to start running physical activities in Saudi Arabia once again very soon, which will include workshops and seminars, as well as design collaborations. In fact, we are currently planning to play a big part in the inaugural Saudi Design Festival, which is scheduled for January/February 2022,” he concludes.

AHEC plays a key role in promoting hardwood products on behalf of the US hardwood exporting industry.  It also represents all the major US hardwood production trade associations.

The organisation has more 30 years of experience in markets all over the world and runs a worldwide programme to promote American hardwoods in over 50 export markets, concentrating on providing architects, specifiers, designers and end-users with technical information on the range of species, products and sources of supply. In addition, it produces a full range of technical publications and can provide technical information, know-how for anyone looking to buy or use American hardwoods, environmental information, assistance with specification and sources of supply of American hardwoods.