Europe, help us change our skin
Champions in Europe and world leaders, the tanneries sell 5 billion euros worth of goods and want to have more of a voice. They are asking Brussels for equality with their Chinese competitors
by Francesca Vercesi
Their "NO" to protectionism is loud and clear, but they'd appreciate less fiscal pressure and maybe even a little more credit. In the best of all possible worlds this would bring new vitality to a sector like that of the Italian tanneries that, though they lead the world in value of production (63% of the EU total and 16% at the global level), feel they are not getting enough attention from Brussels.
One of the victims of a European Community that is more bureaucratic than united is a key contributor to production "Made in Italy", that of leather processing, which employs over 18,000 people in 1,330 companies reporting sales of 4.9 billion euros (27% of which is exported) and has made enormous progress in terms of innovation and environmental commitment.
«We ask the politicians what all the small and medium Italian businesses are asking: to count more on the international chessboard. Europe doesn't listen to our pleas and has never erected barriers against the outflow of our raw hides. We have protested to Brussels, unsuccessfully, and we are tired of the lack of reciprocity with our competitors outside the Community, above all the Chinese, who are depriving us of 40% of the raw hides produced in Europe» points out Salvatore Mercogliano, general director of UNIC (the Italian Tanners' Association, one of the strongest forces in Confindustria), and managing director of the Milanese event Anteprima and of Lineapelle, the international trade fair for a sector with assets in the area of 113 billion dollars revolving around 50,000 companies.
«In the past, moreover, the high euro made it impossible to compete, considering that 75% of our production goes abroad. And when it comes to fiscal pressure, which amounts to around 70%, we are in last place in the civilized world».
The latest data shows a growth in the value of production of 7.9% and a decrease in the volume (-2.6%), with the exception of leather for soles (+4.1%). But the picture is uneven. The sector is made up largely of SME concentrated in clusters specialized by type of processing and use of the goods produced.
The largest area is in the Veneto Region (52% of Italian production) in the Chiampo Valley. «There is a political problem, rooted in the localism of the mayors of the different municipalities» complains Rino Mastrotto, president of UNIC and vice president of the European federation of tanners. Right now, access to raw materials is one of the key factors to enable Italian tanners to compete on the world market.
«Our current competitors are countries that, with their many breeders, take advantage to hinder and often even entirely block foreign access to the raw material tanneries require, through export restrictions» adds Valter Peretti, vice president of UNIC and president of Lineapelle.
Another problem are the banks, «that are not playing their proper role and are having a negative effect on a sector that that needs to be more widely known, also for the attention we devote to the environment» continues Giovanni Russo, vice president of UNIC and representative of the Campania district. «In the last few years, the tanning industries have greatly reduced the quantities of chemical products they use, as well as power, water and solvents: 25% of the processed hides become leather, the rest is all waste and is recycled» concludes Franco Donati, vice president of UNIC, president of Anteprima and representative for the Tuscan district, which accounts for 27% of Italian sales.
Valter Peretti, vice president of UNIC
Giovanni Russo, vice president of UNIC
Rino Mastrotta, president of Unic and vice president of the European tanners
Salvatore Mercogliano, general director of UNIC and managing director of the Lineapelle fair
Franco Donati, vice president of UNIC
THE TANNING INDUSTRY: STATISTICS
World leader for value of production: 16% in the world, 63% of the EU27 total.
Treatment of process water exceeds 95%
75% of the total production consists of leather of bovine origin
27% of the production sold abroad consists of finished hides
Total exports: 77.9%