WASHINGTON – The United States hide, skin and leather industry exported more than $2 billion in cattle hides, pig skins and semi-processed leather products in 2016.
Total export value remained lower after peaking in 2014, but the decreasing exports slowed compared to a larger drop-off in 2015.
US hides and skins companies regularly export more than 90 percent of total US production of these products and are one of the top raw materials suppliers to the global leather manufacturing industry.
“The hides and skins industry is a major success story for US agriculture and exports,” said Stephen Sothmann, president of the US Hide, Skin and Leather Association (USHSLA). “The industry has positioned itself well to capitalize on a highly dynamic, integrated global leather marketplace.”
According to US Dept. of Agriculture data, US exports of wet salted cattle hides (cattle hides that have been preserved using brine solutions) dropped to $1.39 billion in value, a 5 percent decrease from 2015 levels. Exports of wet blue cattle hides (semi-processed hides that have undergone the first stages of leather tanning) similarly fell 19 percent to $606 million in value.
China was the largest purchaser of both salted and wet blue cattle hides for 2016, with imports of wet salted cattle hides valued at over $861 million and $217 million of wet blue cattle hide products. Other large destination markets included Korea, Mexico, Vietnam and the European Union.
US pigskin exports also dropped 16 percent in value to $32 million. The largest markets for US pigskins continue to be Mexico and Taiwan.
The export data reflects sluggish global leather industry market conditions in recent years. A variety of factors, including economic slowdowns in China and reduced leather utilization in footwear globally, have pushed leather demand lower.
However, many in the industry see the trend improving in 2017 as leather is reincorporated into more product lines, especially footwear.
Given its necessity on trade with foreign markets for its continued livelihood, the industry is also monitoring the global political situation intently.
“We have concerns about the political rhetoric surrounding international trade of late,” Sothmann noted. “It is our hope that any policy revisions to the existing international trading system will not negatively impact a thriving US industry’s ability to compete just as our market is beginning to expand.”