Exclusive interview with Martin Johansson, Representative of ECOTOPIA TEAK
With the support of PROPANAMA, the Export and Investment Promotion Authority of the Panamanian government dedicated to promoting national exports, a group of six companies from the timber industry of Panama were present at the 19th edition of the Dubai WoodShow 2023, held in the main city of the United Arab Emirates, on March 7th to 9th, 2023.
During the Panamanian mission to Dubai in conjunction of the exclusive Gala Dinner on March 8th, one of the six Panamanian companies, Ecotopia Teak Incorporated, was granted “The Corporate Social Responsibility Commitment Award” in recognition of its sustainable operations: from the planting of the seeds to the harvest and processing of the wood. This is a valuable recognition from the Dubai WoodShow experts who believe that a company that has good practices and builds a trained team of field workers under European standards are able to deliver plantations teak of the highest quality.
Tell us about your participation at Dubai Wood Show
Martin Johansson: This is our second year at the Dubai Wood Show. Panama has some of the best quality teak plantations of various age classes. Our purpose here at the show is to look for new distributors, clients and markets outside for rounds logs and process teak wood. We have a special interest in opening direct export sales channels to Europe and the Middle East. In India we have a strong position but since our production is increasing and aging, we want to reach the countries that appreciate our quality.
You are promoting Panama teak at the show. Can you tell us briefly about these FSC® teak?
Martin Johansson: All the producers under the Panama Teak brand umbrella are FSC® certified companies, that means that all wood is produced by a plantation that is managed in an environmentally sustainable way, benefits the society and is viable economically. The Panama Teak companies comply with all the principles and criteriums of FSC and continue to demonstrate their capacity to produce world class teak sustainably and in Panama we have more than 30,000 has of FSC certified teak.
How is the demand for Panama Teak in the Middle East?
Martin Johansson: Middle east is a consumer of all the precious woods for thousands of years since the weather conditions are so extreme but the demand for FSC® teak is growing since the global tendencies are switching to sustainable woods products. We got to know this last year and this year is no different. We need to increase our capacity to deliver and also our understanding of the market and the culture, including business culture. We believe that very soon we will have these capacities and can be a well-informed and reliable partner for any interested party in the Middle East region.
What role does the Panama Govt. play in terms of promoting Panama teak at international market?
Martin Johansson: We have the luxury to count on the Panama Government support in our international sales & marketing efforts. PROPANAMA, the Export and Investment Promotion Authority of the Panamanian government dedicated to promoting national exports, supported our participation here at Dubai for the first-time last year (2022) and now again in 2023. The work with PROPANAMA is very fruitful and efficient. As private companies we admire PROPANAMA’s capacity and knowledge in export promotion of our production.
Congratulations on winning the CSR Commitment Award at Dubai Wood Show. How does it feel?
Martin Johansson: Winning the CSR Commitment Award is a recognition to Ecotopia Teak but mainly to all our chain, all the links are important and we are strong as our weakest link, starting from our investors that trust us that we will delivered the high quality teak that can be a replacement for the native teak from Burma to our employees that are humble people from the Province of Darien that have learn to work under Swedish standards and are being able to delivered one of the best teak from commercial plantation teak, to our clients that are buying from sustainable sources.
Our colleagues in the exportation and industrial sectors are also proud because these recognitions show that Panama´s private sector is committed to developing our country.
What are the benefits for the Panamanian businessmen in the teak industry?
Martin Johansson: As country Panama has multiple benefits in the teak space. Its geography is one key.
Panama has excellent logistics with several ports both on the Atlantic and Pacific side. Most of the world’s shipping lines operate in Panama and provide a vast network of connections around the world. On the silviculture side itself, Panama has pretty much a perfect climate and soil to grow teak. Due to that we are able to produce very high-quality material.
The risk of growing of teak in Panama is low as Panama is located below the hurricane belt. Furthermore, Panama is a small country which means short transport distances to the ports.
Our average distance to the most common ports is less than 200km.
Panama has specific legislation to promote plantation forestry in Panama and the latest law is the Law 69 from 2017. It provides certain tax benefits to reforestation companies, which a very much needed, considering that teak growing is a very long-term business and for the majority of the cycle, the companies remain cash flow negative. Last, but by means not least, Panama´s official currency is US dollar. This benefits the industry in two ways. One is that the direct foreign investments made to Panama do not have currency risk. The other factor is that the trade of teak is in US Dollar, hence there is no currency risk on the trade side either.