While U.S. builders explore new supply sources from China, suppliers in North America are trying to gain a foothold in the Orient. Among the major hurdles: Higher prices for U.S. products, competition from Chinese suppliers, distribution snafus, and cultural differences.
U.S.-China Build (USCB), based in Portland, Ore., is attempting to overcome those obstacles. Program director Rose Braden points to several accomplishments since USCB started just over four years ago with $350,000 in seed money from the Department of Commerce:
However, the Chinese have been reluctant to move from concrete to wood as the basic structural material for housing. But, with rising incomes—China now has a million plus millionaires—there's more interest in Western-style homes.
“Developers in China are starting to look for an edge to differentiate their projects,” says Braden, “and that can include design, energy-efficient features, or environmentally-friendly materials.”
While they hope to answer those needs, U.S. building supply companies have a long way to go to tip the trade balance with China. In one key product area alone—forest products—Chinese exports to the U.S. totaled nearly $1.5 billion in 2004, a 63 percent increase from the prior year, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. In the same year, the U.S. exported just $367 million in forest products to China.