Live from Paper Week: Never Mind the Playing Field

New York–As North American paper companies struggle to compete more effectively with European mills, they need to stop worrying about whether the “playing field” is level with that of Europe, says John Wissman, an executive at Norwalk, CT-based paper industry data technology consultancy Fisher International. Speaking at the Pulp & Paper general session kicking off American Forest & Paper Association’s Paper Week, Wissman told attendees that he thought the playing field between the North American and European paper mills would never be level, but “it’s more important to make sure we have the right playing field.”

That means making sure North American paper companies maintain a competitive presence globally, Wissman said. He pointed out, for instance that newer, lower cost facilities are being built in places such as Europe and Asia, while U.S. mills continue to lag behind technologically. “The U.S. ability to compete on commodity grades will deteriorate,” he said.

Carl Bjornberg, CEO of Helsinki, Finland-based paper manufacturer Myllykoski Corp., said that one of the most important focuses for European mills is increasing the supply of recovered, or recycled paper. He said Europe is currently importing 3 million tons of recycled paper, and that the global demand for recycled paper is increasing. “We need to find ways—legal, political, industry-driven—to increase collection rates,” he said.

The dynamics of the printing and writing paper market in Europe will shift in the next few months due to the EU enlargement, said Martin Glass, founder of Cornwall, UK-based paper market consulting firm EMGE & Co. In May, 10 countries including Poland, Malta, Latvia, Hungary, and Slovakia, will join the EU, making it a considerably larger paper market. In fact, Glass said that the new members currently consume 2 million tons of paper; Poland consumes 40% of that.

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