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The leather tanning industry

Leather tanning covers the treatment of raw materials, i.e. the conversion of raw hide or skin, a putrescible material, into leather, a stable material, and finishing it so that it can be used in the manufacture of a wide range of consumer products.

The leather tanning industry uses hides and skins - by-products from the meat and dairy industry - which would otherwise have to be disposed of by other means, such as landfills and incineration. Leather is the tanning sector's fundamental output. It is an intermediate industrial product, with applications in downstream sectors of the consumer goods industry. Footwear, garment, furniture, automotive and leather goods industries are the most important outlets for EU tanners' production.

The processing of hides and skins also generates other by-products which find outlets in several industry sectors such as pet and animal food production, fine chemicals including photography and cosmetics, and soil conditioning and fertilisers.

In 2006, the leather tanning sector comprised some 3,700 enterprises and generated a turnover of €10.6 billion. These enterprises employed around 52,000 people in EU-27. Tanneries in the European Union are typically family-owned, small and medium sized enterprises. Regional concentration is strong, and the industry often plays a key role in the local economy, being the predominant wealth and employment creator.

In the context of global competitiveness, particular attention is being devoted to the opportunities and risks for the European leather tanning industry in an enlarged European Union. The integration of leather and tanning businesses of new Member States is ongoing and will induce further structural adjustment, not least because one of the main comparative advantages of the new Member States - low labour costs - is bound to decrease over time.

The leather tanning industry is a global industry, and EU tanners depend highly on access to raw materials and to export markets. Even if, in general, the share of the EU in the 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.

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