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The latest figures for Chinese sofa and wood furniture imports into Britain showed a first combined decline since records began. There are at least three plausible reasons why.

 

As we reported earlier this month, sofa imports from China declined 12 percent in February, the latest dataset, with cabinet furniture shipments from China down 5.6 percent, as we revealed today (see related).


Imports of either cabinets or upholstery have declined in single months before, but never both categories combined since The Furnishing Report began monitoring monthly year-over-year imports from countries worldwide.


The first theory as to why is obvious; the British furniture market is weakening and demand for goods made in China — the biggest source of imported furniture sold in the UK market — is on the wane.


Well, the market is certainly not great. But China's drift in February wasn't consistent with other countries, which sent more goods to Britain, suggesting displacement — with other source countries sending more goods to Britain and chipping away at China's dominance — as a second possible reason.


But perhaps the best theory of all relates to Chinese Government policy.


Along with new product, the talk at the big Chinese furniture shows last autumn was of a widespread crackdown by the state on factory emissions.


Last October, Forbes published this article, which suggested that 40 percent of all Chinese factories had been shut down at some point in order to be inspected by officials as part of a national effort to address the country's oft-cited pollution problems.


This followed earlier-announced plans by China to reduce the concentration of hazardous fine particulate matter from 47 micrograms per cubic metre to 35 micrograms within 20 years.


A month earlier, one of the UK's best retailers had told us: "When they want to achieve something, the Chinese do not mess about. Can you imagine the UK Government going into Long Eaton and just bulldozing any factory they didn't think met the required standard?


"This was the talk of the Chinese furniture shows."


Could the drive for air quality in China be having a knock-on effect on British furniture imports? It is certainly a credible theory, and not as lazy as just blaming everything on Brexit.

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