European paper and board production is said to have declined in 2023, with a preliminary statistics report from Cepi attributing the development to energy costs remaining high, a poor economic environment, and destocking.

Consumption is said to have fallen by 15.3% as mid-term global economic trends lowered demand for paper and board and increased destocking. Production was also said to have contracted for the second year in a row and decreased by 12.8%.

Compared to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which production was said to fall by -4.7%, production continued to decrease – a development linked to energy costs remaining high. It also contracted further in Europe than in many other global regions, Cepi adds, with other locations seeing reductions between -2% and -10%.

However, in the context of globalized low demand, both imports and exports are said to have diminished equally. Pulp and paper trade balance is also said to remain ‘by far positive’ in Europe and is named as one of the EU’s top manufacturing sectors in this area.

Still, with consumption decreasing by 12.2%, packaging and paper board production has continued to fall. The report says that e-commerce figures have reverted back from the spike during the pandemic, while retail in general has begun to slow.

Consequently, consumption of paper for recycling has fallen by -7.3%, with recycled material contributing greatly to paper-based packaging in Europe.

Graphic paper, including printing and writing paper, experienced a -27.5% decrease in consumption. Cepi does not hold digitalization solely responsible, underlining the contribution of destocking to over half of the decline. The book sub-segment is not thought to have been affected.

Paper used in sanitary and household applications is thought to have decreased by -3.7% and remained stable in comparison with other segments. This is due to growth in ‘at-home’ markets like tissues and toilet paper performing better than ‘away-from-home’ solutions, which have been hit by inflation and slowing consumption.

Pulp production did not decline as steeply as paper production, though, with the final figure placed at 7.5%. Its decline is connected to a high number of graphic paper mill closures, with the facilities also producing pulp – yet the production of market pulp grew by 4.8% due to rising capacities and strong demand from China.

“Out of all the macro-economic issues born of the crises of the recent years, improving basic operating and investment conditions for the EU’s manufacturing sector, while still being a big challenge, might still be one of the lowest hanging fruits for EU policymakers,” comments Jori Ringman, director general at Cepi.

The news comes after preliminary statistics for 2022 recorded a 5.9% decrease in paper and board production from 2021. High costs for energy and raw materials, the resultant machine stops, and stalling economic growth were all said to be contributing factors.

Cepi’s final statistics report for the same year noted a -3.5% decrease in consumption, which was attributed to energy prices and economic issues. It also warned that, while its trade balance remained positive, the European paper and pulp sector could face a decline that would threaten its global competitiveness.

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