Furniture is big business. Between 1995 and 2000 trade in furniture worldwide grew by 36 per cent, faster than world merchandise trade as a whole (26.5 per cent), apparel (32 per cent) and footwear (1 per cent). By 2000 it was the largest low-tech sector, with total global trade worth US$57.4 billion, exceeding apparel (US$51 billion) and footwear (US$36.5 billion).In the European Union (EU), extra-intra furniture imports grew by 20 per cent from 1995 to 2000 compared with 17 per cent for total extra-intra EU imports. Furniture has traditionally been a resource and labour-intensive industry that includes both local craft-based firms and large volume producers. Massproducing furniture became a viable manufacturing strategy with the advent of flat-pack or ready-to-assemble designed furniture.
This product innovation paved the way for firms to design, manufacture and ship products in large quantities. Firms that mass-produce flat-pack furniture tend to supply products for the low- to medium-price markets. Solid wood furniture manufacturers have retained important niche market segments primarily for high-end, expensive and design-led products. These specialized products tend to be purchased locally while mass-produced, large-volume products are sold locally and for export. 15 major exporters, six are developing countries (viz. Brazil, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand) and four transition economies (viz. Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovenia).
These 10 countries tend to be large-volume exporters and low-volume importers of furniture (thereby being large net exporters). Industrialized countries on the whole export and import large volumes of furniture with Italy by far the largest net exporter, with Canada, Denmark, Spain and Sweden in third, seventh, tenth and fourteenth places respectively.
The furniture industry is divided into different product groups, each of which has distinct market segments. The Harmonized System of product classification distinguishes four wood product groups, namely office furniture, kitchen furniture, bedroom furniture, and dining/living and shop furniture as well as metal and plastic furniture and furniture parts. These product groupings do not differentiate between craft and mass-produced items or between low- and high-priced market items. Total furniture imports accounted for 1 per cent of all extra-EU imports in 2000 and amounted to US$4,890 million. The wood furniture products (WFP) accounted for the largest share of furniture imports (62 per cent) with extra EU wood furniture imports totalling US$3,038 million in 2000.