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It is Tuesday February 2, and we are in Brussels working on "A Future for European Leather", where the industry of selected EU tanning countries are reporting the final findings of a year of dialogue between Cotance and the IndustriAll-European Trade Union.
During the day an emphasis has been put on a policy from 2012, when the European Commission proposed creating employment through "reindustrialising" Europe. The policy was to increase the industrial sector’s share in the European economy from about 15% in 2012 to 20% in 2020.
It is a great target, but as it was pointed out, the reach of many other sectors in the European economy have a larger growth potential than industrial sectors, which makes increasing industry’s relative share of GDP unlikely. The one surprising bright spot has been the automotive sector as a result of consumer interest spurred by cheap oil.
Luc Triangle, the very knowledgeable Deputy General Secretary of IndustriAll, made the most powerful intervention arguing that the policies to support reindustrialising are inadequate and that indeed the rules for trading, in particular for duty free access to raw material, has not helped the drive towards a level playing field. The response from the DG (Directorate General) Trade was "that we are doing the best possible". There is no doubt that EU tanning industry has been surprised that countries such as India, Brazil and Morocco still restrict access to their raw material despite having long moved beyond the "nascent" stage needing support and protection.
Gustavo Gonzales-Quijano, Cotance Secretary General, reminded the session that twenty years ago discussions were held within the EU supporting the concept of conceding the entire leather industry to emerging markets. I was not aware of this, but do remember that at an earlier UN Convention, I think in Lima, that such a direction was approved. Allied with the false arguments about leather making being a dirty and difficult industry, there is a battle to overcome the history of leather making being inappropriate for Europe and not a good place to seek employment.
Given the huge number of jobs and the added value involved, these sort of views have reversed, at least in Brussels, where it is recognised that whole sectors like the luxury goods trade in France, the handbag business in Italy, the welted footwear industry of the UK and the automobile industry of Germany, are tightly linked in to the European raw stock and tanning sector.
Europe does not need less leather; it needs more leather.
2nd January 2016
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