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5. Conclusions

The central conclusion from the analysis is that role of plantation forests, in meeting future wood and fibre demands, will increase during the next 30 years, irrespective of future rates of plantation establishment. Trees in the ground already largely determine wood supplies from forest plantation for the next decade. In many countries, a considerable increase in areas of plantation forests reaching harvestable age will occur. By 2010 the annual yield of plantation-grown industrial roundwood is estimated to increase from its current 414 million to around 600 million m3yr-1.

Beyond 2010, plantation production forecasts are increasingly dependent on assumptions of new planting rates, and on assumptions of improvements in annual increments. There is scope, depending on policy decisions and markets, for forest plantations to play a dominant role in industrial wood and fibre supplies. A more likely scenario is that the proportion of forest plantation-grown wood will increase, but natural forests will continue to supply a modest majority of industrial roundwood.

The question of where future plantation forest development is most likely to occur remains unclear. At present, many governments remain active in plantation forest establishment, either directly, through state planting programmes, or indirectly, by providing incentives to the private sector. In some instances plantations realising non-market values can justify incentives. In other cases the incentives are merely maintaining wood supply capacity. In any event, under these circumstances, competitive and comparative advantages are not clearly emerging.

The most significant forest plantation increases in the immediate future will be in countries where specific public planting programmes are in force, most notably China and India. In Europe, plantation establishment is likely to be mainly dictated by the life span of EU incentive policies. Europe is largely self-sufficient in terms of wood-fibre volumes and development of a larger than present plantation-based export trade seems a unlikely development.

South America and Oceania are likely to continue to expand forest plantation areas under the perception that real competitive advantage in plantation growing is held in these regions. The extent to which forest plantations increase in these regions is likely to be dictated by the extent to which this perception is sustained. If plantation revenues are unsatisfactory then afforestation rates in these regions are likely to slow.

Plantation profitability in the southern countries is likely to be determined by conditions in North American and Asian markets and by wood and fibre supplies from forests in these regions. Similarly, if the current trend toward increasing regulation of natural forests increases then forest plantation establishment in both North America and Asia is also likely to accelerate. Of key interest will be natural forest wood supply trends in the US Pacific-Northwest, Canada, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Plantation forest establishment in the former-USSR and Africa seems unlikely to accelerate in the immediate future. In the former-USSR countries, economic difficulties are likely to mean plantation investment will be of relatively low priority, particularly given the extensive natural forest resource in several of these countries. In Africa, the absence of strong infrastructure is likely to remain a significant competitive disadvantage for many countries. It is difficult to see true competitive advantage in plantation investment emerging in many countries, even those that have important industries based on natural forests.

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