The industry recycles and transforms waste from the meat industry, that is, the raw hides produced as the result of slaughtering.
The main type of animals processed are therefore adult cattle, which account for 71% of the total production, followed by sheep (11%), goats (10%) and heifers (8%). Les s than 1% of the hides tanned by the sector belong to other animal species (reptiles, pigs etc.). The most important customer of Italian tanneries has always been the footwear manufacturing industry, which purchases almost half of the hides produced nationally (42%). This is followed by the leather goods (24%), furniture (16%), car interior (11%) and clothing (5%) industries. The remaining 2% is destined for extremely marginal uses (bookbinding, etc.). Tanning is one of the most intensively internationalised Italian industrial sectors, as proven by foreign trade data.
Exports of tanned hides, destined for shipment to 114 countries, account for over three quarters of the sector’s overall sales figures (a percentage that has more than doubled in the last 20 years). While the European Union is our major geographical sales area (51% of all exports), since 1995 the biggest single foreign country of destination for our hides has undoubtedly been China. Including Hong Kong, it imports 16% of the total exported and, therefore accounts for 12% of the overall sales made abroad by the sector. A key role for the sector is also played by the importation of raw materials, since hides procured abroad, from 119 countries, cover over 90% of the industry’s requirements. Specifically, with regard to the type of commodity purchased, 52% of the volume of the imports are raw hides while 47% are hides that have been semi-processed to the "wet blue" stage; the rest, used semi-processed hides or "crusts", account for 1% of the total.
Given the fundamental importance of supplies from abroad, the problem of protectionism with regard to the raw material is a particularly sensitive issue, practised fiercely and unlawfully by a growing number of significant competitors from outside Europe (Brazil, India, Argentina, Russia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan etc.). To date, about half of the raw hides available globally are removed from the free market due to the application of duties and other, non-tariff barriers to trade.
Despite the ruthless competition from those mentioned above, who are also strongly favoured by insufficient environmental and social standards, the Italian tanning industry is still the undisputed leader internationally. In fact, the value of the Italian production accounts for 19% of the total world production, a percentage that rises to 65% if we consider the European Union total alone, while on a commercial level, we calculate that one out of four finished hides traded internationally is of Italian origin.