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The leather tanning sector: a global industry

Leather map of the world © Alexey Klementiev -

EU tanners play a crucial role in the global leather sector, but world markets present new challenges for them.

The EU is a major actor of the global leather market. To ensure the competitiveness of its leather industry, the EU works at lowering the impact of barriers to importation of raw materials and to access to foreign markets for finished leather products.

Even if, in general, the share of the EU on world markets is tending to shrink with the development of the leather industry in other regions of the world such as Asia and the Americas, the EU tanning industry is still the world's largest supplier of leather in the international market place.

The leather tanning industry is a global industry, and EU tanners depend highly on access to raw materials and to export markets. This is, however, often hampered by tariff and non-tariff barriers.

European tanners count two types of trade barriers: first, barriers hindering the export of finished leather and, second, barriers restricting access to raw materials, which constitute a trade barrier typical to the leather tanning sector. These are considered to be the most harmful trade barriers since they significantly impact the competitiveness of European tanners.

Since access to European raw materials has become more difficult (slaughter rate and beef production have dropped in recent years), access to raw materials outside Europe is crucial. Many third countries, however, maintain export bans and restrictions for raw hides and skins. Market access improvements are expected first and foremost in the context of the WTO where the European Commission supports the overall withdrawal of all export restrictions by different WTO members (China, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, etc.). To ensure that European industries have fair access to the raw materials they need, the European Commission has elaborated an integrated strategy as presented in its Communication on the 'Raw Materials Initiative' of November 2008.

EU tanners are exposed to increasing competition from a large number of non-EU countries, notably low-labour cost ones. In this context, fair and reciprocal market access is essential in order to allow EU tanners to find markets in which to sell their products. At present, the European market is open to virtually unrestricted imports from all over the world. EU import duties are very low and non-tariff barriers do not exist. At the same time, European operators are still faced with numerous barriers to trade (such as high import duties and tariff and non-tariff measures such as excessive labelling or certification requirements).

For trade figures, have a look at the Statistics section.

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