Key messages: 1) Rising energy and raw material prices raise costs and cut into profit; 2) Trade restrictions impact raw material imports and high-tech exports.
According to a survey implemented by the Bioscope project with businesses in the forest-based sector in North Karelia (Finland), 83% of respondents expects that that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will affect their businesses. At the time of publishing this blog, analysis is based on inputs received from 12 correspondents, which represents 13% of the total number of forest-based sector businesses in the region. While the sample does not allow to be conclusive, there are good indications of the key issues for businesses in the region.
Rising raw material prices (69% mentioned in of the responses), EU/Finland import restrictions (62%) and rising energy prices (54%) were considered to be the most impeding factors for wood-based bioeconomy businesses in North Karelia. As a result, businesses are in search of alternative raw material sources, intermediate products, and alternative logistics routes. Increasing product prices will impact profit margins and competitiveness of business in the region. For some businesses Russia was also an important export destination, which is now temporarily halted. Not only is the wood processing industry affected, but also forestry work at the beginning of the value chain, due to the high fuel costs and increased fertilizer prices are reducing forest improvement efforts.
Since the launch of this questionnaire in the beginning of April, restrictions have been further strengthened and while limitations on transportation made the wood trade practically impossible from Russia to Finland, now roundwood trade has been explicitly banned. As North Karelian industry relied on steady imports of roundwood, this does naturally impact the resourcing effort of affected companies.
Coal and oil, all imported from Russia, represented 6% and 22% in Finland’s total energy consumption in 2020 (Statistics Finland, 2021). Before the war, Finland also imported considerable amounts of biomass for energy production from Russia but which are now not available anymore, affecting district heating and private households. Reduced availability and rising prices affect heat and power costs, and risen fuel costs already have a large impact on overall transportation costs and profitability. North Karelia did have some dependency on biomass for energy production in district heating. Over the past few years Finland has been phasing out peat as an energy source due to environmental concerns, but domestic peat is now viewed as an alternative to Russian wood chips, at least temporarily (YLE, 2022). Overcoming energy security risks will require a rapid implementation of clean energy strategies, and deployment of mature technologies (wind, solar, storage, heat pumps).
The Saimaa canal can officially still be used to transport goods, but in the current volatile political situation, few ship owners are taking the risk to transport goods along the route. This has a major impact on the export possibilities for companies in North Karelia. The Karjalainen newspaper in an article (2022) estimated that 10 million kilometres of additional truck transports would need to be driven due to closure of the canal. Road transportation being much more expensive than water transport, will also impact the profitability and ultimately the competitive position of producers in the region.
The rapid shifts in trade caused by the sanctions will have profound implications for Finland and Russia, and especially for regions with close links to the Russian market, such as North Karelia. It is unclear what their full effect will be, which will depend on the agility of the sector to find new sources for raw material and new markets for outputs. One thing is clear: The response to sanctions must be embedded in the transformation of energy systems – so that local business can make the leap away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy technologies.
Photo: Franz W. via Pixabay