I came to Chongqing in China because I knew it would deliver buyers and it did,” said Chad Cotterill, VP Export Sales of Tioga Hardwoods, in a sentiment commonly expressed after AHEC’s 21st annual Southeast Asia & Greater China Convention in June.

Chongqing in Southwest China is a modern and fast developing city of 36 million people and the regional hub for 650 million Chinese consumers and their businesses – a region of enormous opportunities for growth, including the emerging furniture industry. Mr Chao Xuen Li, President if the Chongqing Furniture Trade Association welcomed the event for providing the opportunity for delegates to “gain a deeper understanding of American hardwoods that will boost the development of furniture production in Chongqing.” The Convention was supported by dozens of associations and institutes from China and Southeast Asia, many Asian media, 45 members of AHEC and 70 of their local representatives; as well as a working tour group from the NHLA. A full programme of speakers over two days ended with a reception and mini trade show. The Convention was one of energetic networking by 365 delegates.

The Convention programme was preceded by a morning media conference at which a full house of journalists heard from a panel of AHEC officials: Dave Bramlage (Chairman), Michael Snow (Executive Director), John Chan (Regional Director) and Forestry Professor, Dr Scott Bowe from the University of Wisconsin. They gave the latest details of AHEC’s work on trade statistics, environmental issues, new applications for American hardwoods and the expanding resource in the USA. The media event included a Q&A session, followed by a press lunch.

In the afternoon a breakout Market Panel Discussion, moderated by Michael Buckley of Turnstone Singapore, was opened by John Chan, then with Presentations by Michael Snow on market drivers in China and Mr Buckley on furniture trends in Southeast Asia. The first panel addressed Market Issues with speakers from Vietnam (Mr Nguyen Quoc Kahn – Chairman of HAWA and his Deputy), Taiwan (Mr Calon Hsu, TTIA), Thailand (Mr Sanan Dulyavit, CNT International), Singapore (Mr Jen Kiat Chew, Natureal) and Malaysia (Mr Malte Herrmann. APP Timber). The second panel addressed trade issues, in particular the recently introduced legislation in Indonesia requiring all wood imports to provide evidence of legality and sustainability. The panel was fortunate to be joined by Mr Ali Abdi, Agricultural Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, who has been at the centre of government to government discussions with AHEC in order to facilitate hardwood exports by the USA into Indonesia without disruption. The panel also included Mr Eddy Budiono, President of PT Abadi Indorono, a long time importer of American hardwoods in Indonesia. Progress on this issue was discussed with Michael Snow and questions answered. The latest English-language American Hardwood Supplement, supported by AHEC and published by Pablo in Singapore featuring many relevant articles, was distributed to all.

The theme of the Convention was “Sustainable American Hardwood: The Low Carbon Choice for Quality Living”. It was co-chaired by Mr Lai Zeng Xiang, Professor at the Design and Architecture School at Shanghai’s Tongji University and Mr Tony Lin, founding President of the Singapore Furniture Industry Council. Proceedings were opened with welcomes from Mr Bruce Zanin, Minister Counselor for Agriculture, Embassy of USA. Dave Bramlage, Chairman of AHEC, paid tribute to John Chan and his team of Sharon Shek, Peggy Yu and Rita Mak who had worked tirelessly to stage the event, which was attended by Tripp Pryor from AHEC’S Washington office.  The Mr Chao Xuen Li and Mr John Chan, Regional Director of AHEC, based in Hong Kong. He explained the future vital role of Chongqing in the development of trade and industry in western China.  Michael Snow, Executive Director of AHEC in Washington DC, gave the keynote presentation ‘American Hardwoods around the World’ which clearly set out the importance of China to U.S. exporters. He described the drivers for increased use of wood under the headings of Environmental issues, Technical Innovation and Fashion.  For the first he explained the development of American Hardwood Environmental Profiles (AHEPs) by AHEC. Then he touched on a range of new applications in structural and exterior uses for American hardwood species and finally addressed the importance of choices for designers.  These were later ably demonstrated by Dr Patrick Leung, Founder and Principal Designer at PAL Design Consultants in Hong Kong, whose use of wood is extraordinary and was inspiring.

Professor Scott Bowe outlined the ‘U.S. Hardwood Resource’ and Mr Judd Johnson, Managing Editor of the Hardwood Market Report, discussed ‘Market Conditions and Supply’ illustrated by the statistics that his publication regularly makes available. Mr Neil Summers gave a more detailed insight into many high profiles projects undertaken by AHEC in recent years to promote applications in Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) for construction and Thermal Modification of Timber (TMT) for exterior use to provide ‘Opportunities for U.S. Hardwood Usage’. The formal programme closed with an introduction to ‘U.S. Hardwood Lumber Grading Rules’ by NHLA Chief Inspector, Dana Spessert – now a regular visitor to China. All local delegates received a goody bag with an excellent programme booklet and the latest American Hardwood Supplement in Chinese. The backdrop setting was created in American White Oak by designer Jarrod Lim, whose recent AHEC pavilion in American Cherry veneer won ‘Best Stand in Show’ at the 2016 Singapore furniture exhibition.

After closing remarks by Michael Snow, the Convention ended with a networking reception and mini trade show at which the emphasis was on meetings with the 24 AHEC members exhibiting. This joining together had been the underlying strength of the two day event and a fitting one celebrating AHEC’s 21st annual convention in Asia, which could now be said to have really ‘come of age’.