Opportunities for the Middle East leather trade

United Arab Emirates
Published:  16 January, 2015

The value of leather imports and exports across the GCC was US$3.9 billion in 2013, including semi-finished and finished leather products, travel goods, accessories, handbags and footwear, according to Euromonitor International.

At nearly $2bn a year, the UAE holds the lion’s share of the leather trade in the GCC, while Saudi Arabia, which also is a big manufacturer of leather products, saw $1.1bn worth of leather imports and exports in 2013.

The UAE has had its own tannery for 10 years, Abu Dhabi’s Al Khaznah Tannery, off the Al Ain-Abu Dhabi highway. It produces camel leather to a very high standard.

Camel leather is far thicker and more durable than bovine leather and can be used in a myriad of different ways. Camel skin is expensive but it provides another business case for farming camels and another link between the country and the animal that is fundamental to its formation and growth.

Leather is one of the world’s most widely traded commodities. The global trade in leather and leather products is worth more than $60bn per year.

“Saudi Arabia and Iran are huge producers of leather with a large number of tanneries inside the countries,” says Benjamin Redwood, the business development manager for Leatherworld Middle East, an industry event in Dubai.

“They produce handbags and sandals, a lot of white-label goods that can be rebranded when they arrive in the country of consumption. The emerging middle class in China has been the greatest growth driver as the country demands leather clothing, furniture and accessories.”

In the UAE, Dubai in particular is becoming a hub for the mainly bovine hides coming out of Sudan, which has one of the largest head of cattle in the world as well as Kenya and Ethiopia. Egypt is also a very important leather producer in the region with more than 200 tanneries. However, its leather industry has been running for millennia and it has a healthy domestic consumption. African countries are home to 15% of the world’s cattle and 25% of its sheep and goats, but only account for about 15% of global output of hides and skins – 8% of bovine hides and 14% of sheep and goat skins.

Exports of hides and skins have fallen in recent years to below 4% of total exports, yet leather is ranked very highly as an export commodity in several African countries. The countries’ can only tan 6.8% of its capacity against 9.2% a few years ago. At the same time, the livestock population has jumped about 25% over the last decade, faster than the world trend.

The UAE is enjoying the fruits of this trend. This country imports and re-exports African leather but because the livestock is often below the standards of European and US cattle it is not often used for the needs of UAE companies. Industry sources estimate two thirds of the hides from Africa go straight to China.

Source: The National