Industry - Major challenges

The furniture sector was one of the hardest hit by the financial and economic crisis and it has not yet recovered. Only in the period 2007- 2009, the number of EU companies dropped significantly down, 280.000 job were lost and the turnover decreased by 34%, turning from an estimation of €136 billion to €90 billion.

Competition in the internal market has improved but it is still hindered by national technical barriers and a plurality of national certification systems.

EU furniture industry has still to face many challenges, including:

  • Import pressure from low wage economies: whereas EU companies must comply with strict and costly regulations, they must compete – also on their own internal market - with non-EU companies whose production does not have to abide by such high social, safety and environmental standards. In the last decade, the Chinese furniture market increased to 40% of the global market, without making use of any comparable standards while benefiting from state-aid measures.
  • Protectionist measures on export markets: while the EU is the most open market globally, protectionist measures exist in other international markets, with tariffs applied on EU furniture exports, such as those existing in South America, India, Pakistan, the USA and Japan.
  • Absence of consumer awareness: increasing and expensive efforts by EU furniture manufacturers to improve furniture products and ensure high quality standard, risk being fruitless unless accompanied with sufficient consumer information; today’s consumers are not provided with sufficient tools to understand and compare the characteristics of furniture products.
  • Limited access to financial resources: the main furniture demand determinants in the domestic market are weak: public spending levels are notably reduced, investment in residential construction is lower than in the past and income available to consumers has diminished. Moreover, our sector is mostly composed of SMEs with limited access to financial resources.
  • Lack of harmonization in EU market creating Barriers: the existence of different national regulations, together with many national schemes and labels, create a concrete barrier for EU producers who operate in the internal market and must comply with a high number of different complex national rules.
  • Insufficient EU-level IPRs protection: our competitiveness strongly depends on the protection of products with high intangible contents, such us brands, patents, design and copyright, as the only effective tool against counterfeiting. National IP protection is too complex, limited and costly for industries that operate in the Internal Market, as it requires expensive individual requirements to be met for IP protection in each and every EU State.
  • Structural Problems – Labour force: we are confronted by a number of structural problems, such as the lack of a skilled work force, high labour costs, ageing workers and difficulties in attracting young people. We need the EU labour market to be more dynamic and harmonised. Proceeding with the current status could lead to a loss in jobs; traditions; artisanship; craftsmanship and culture.
  • Need for a major market surveillance: we need to enforce uniform and stronger market surveillance at the EU level and higher cooperation among customs authorities at the EU level, as the only productive tool against counterfeiting and the illegal trade in goods. No regulation will properly work unless accompanied by effective implementation and controls.
  • Oligopolistic tendencies on the suppliers and distributors side: our sector suffers from oligopolistic tendencies which existing both among suppliers and in the market; this leads to a great pressure on producers and an undesirable rise in costs.