Furniture connoisseurs from
around the world have always prized pieces from SoutheastAsia both for their use of exclusive natural materials and the
elegant styles influenced by the unique cultures and lifestyles found
in the region. Thailand's furniture industry is one of the strongest in
the region due to its superior production quality, innovative and modern
styling, and flexibility in material use as well as the county's relative
political and economic stability compared to competitors in Vietnam, Indonesia,
Western style furniture emerged in Thailand over 200 years
ago, imported from France during the reign of King Louis XVI. The
first pieces of western furniture made their way into the homes
of Thailand's nobility and the country's wealthiest families, with
citizens of lower rank and wealth settling for locally crafted replicas
of the fine European pieces.
imported furniture influenced local craftsmen, predominantly newly
settled Chinese artisans who quickly became skilled in using Thailand's
large supply of teak wood to emulate the classical European designs.
Along with production of classic designs, styles began to reflect
Thai and regional culture as well as incorporating traditional materials
readily available in Southeast Asia.
20th century saw Thailand emerge as the world's premier supplier
of teak wood and products, with the durable hard wood being used
for furniture, flooring, in ship production and in countless other
ways. Unsustainable logging programs, political corruption combined
with unscrupulous business practices severely eroded Thailand's
supply of teak wood. The process of deforestation contributed to
a series of massive floods in Northern Thailand, which formerly
had large swathes of the tropical tree, leading to a countrywide
ban on the commercial logging of teak in 1989. The ban jolted the
local furniture industry, forcing manufacturers to source imported
teak wood or to find a new kind of wood.
Thailand's furniture industry quickly adapted to the teak
logging ban and has largely relied and emphasized the use of parawood,
a processed wood produced from old rubber trees that no longer produce
sufficient quantities of rubber. Every 30 years, plantation rubber trees
are felled and replanted as the tree's yield of rubber substantially declines
at that age. The potential supply of parawood in Thailand is almost limitless,
as the country is the world's leading natural rubber producer and has
vast plantations of rubber trees being replaced on an on-going basis.
The shift in production by Thailand's furniture makers from teak to parawood
has energized the local industry, while giving another source of revenue
to rubber producers in the country.
furniture industry in Thailand has experience strong growth over the past
decade. While domestic demand suffered significantly during the economic
crisis, exports have remained buoyant and registered US$ 794 million in
1999 with the principle destinations being Japan and the United States.
The industry's exports have registered slight growth over the past few
years after experiencing a 75% increase between 1991 and 1994. Further
growth has been registered over the first eight months of 2000 as furniture
exports are up 17% over the previous year.
export of furniture from Thailand is dominated by wooden products, which
comprise over 70% of the total export figure, with metal furniture being
the second largest product in the category registering just over 10%.
Wooden furniture manufacturers have adapted well to the shift to parawood
and currently use it in 60% of production and 80% of wooden furniture
Thailand's wooden furniture industry faces considerable competition
from regional competitors, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan and China
in particular. Malaysia was the first country to use parawood for large-scale
furniture production and benefits from slightly lower production costs
than Thailand. China is beginning to import processed rubber-wood for
use in its furniture manufacturing industry and enjoys the advantage of
significantly cheaper labor expenses. As rival countries advance their
production quality, the level of competition for Thailand's furniture
exporters is expected to heat up.
Various government agencies and industry representatives have been active
in promoting and encouraging Thailand's furniture exports. The Department
of Export Promotion (DEP) stepped up its efforts in showcasing Thailand's
furniture exporters during the economic crisis when domestic purchases
of furniture slumped by over 70 percent. The DEP currently works with
the Thailand Furniture Industry Association to stage an annual trade show,
along with coordinating participation in relevant trade events abroad.
Furniture manufacturers have also been active in displaying
their products in the DEP's newly constructed 'Export Mart', which allows
exporters a site to showcase their products on a permanent basis to prospective
buyers visiting Thailand. Thailand's Board of Investment has also been
active in lobbying for lowered or exemptions on import taxes on imported
raw materials for Thailand's furniture industry, including those on paint,
glue, lacquer and hinges.
While the style and quality of Thai furniture products has
been well received, further efforts should be made to improve the quality
and styling of the products to maximize their competitiveness in the world
market. Thailand's furniture manufacturers have been slow to achieve industrial
standards certification for quality (ISO 9000) or environmental management
(IS0 14000), which are increasing in importance for exports ticketed for
demanding Western markets. The liquidity problems currently being experienced
in Thailand's financial sector are preventing numerous furniture exporters
from taking advantage of sales opportunities. However, with Thailand's
domestic furniture sales beginning to recover from the crisis and continued
strong export sales projected for the future, the industry's prospects
continue to appear bright.
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