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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 Nov 1978

Vol. 309 No. 4

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Leather Goods.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy the approximate total estimated value of all leather goods that could be produced here at home from the raw skins and hides now being exported each year.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy the approximate total annual value of imported leather goods which could be produced from Irish raw materials.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if any leathers or leather goods are imported; the value of such imports; and if any of this imported leather or leather goods could be produced in this country.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 14 and 15 together. Leather and leather goods valued at £32.7 million were imported in the year ending 30 June 1978. This excludes certain leather goods for which separate figures were not available, but the amounts involved in those cases would not be very significant. During the same period similar goods to the value of £38.7 million were exported.

In the physical sense, no doubt some of the leather or leather goods imported could have been produced in this country. I take it, however, that what the Deputy has in mind is viable and economic production. Because of the wide variety of goods made from leather, of the different grades and quality of leather and the varying and, in some cases, conjectural market prospects, it is not possible to make any realistic estimates along the lines requested by the Deputy.

In regard to the export of hides, it should be mentioned that the Irish tanneries have not been complaining of any shortage of hides. The significant imports of leather are attributable to the fact that the main Irish tanning group concentrate on the export market in the interests of maintaining long production runs, which, in their judgement, offer the best prospects for successful trading.

Import statistics are kept under continuous review by the State agencies concerned, as part of their continuing research to identify products which might form the basis for successful Irish manufacturing enterprises.

I ask the Minister whether we send out untreated or unprocessed hides, probably at very bad prices to the value of something in the region of £7 million? In all probability we import some of the finished leathers that have been manufactured and processed from the hides we have exported. Has any realistic appraisal been made by the Department or any other agency to see whether we should not be seeking to utilise this raw material emanating from our meat factories in a much more realistic way with greater benefit to ourselves and the Community as a whole?

I have already given the import and export figures to the Deputy. Exports of leather goods exceed significantly the imports. We do export hides but not, I think it fair to say, at very bad prices. Those hides could be processed here if the tanneries concerned felt that there was any market for them. Unfortunately, that is not the position at present. The leather market in Europe is in a weak position currently.

Is there a virtual monopoly in the taking up of hides and it may well be that this monopoly, like many others, is to the detriment of the Community as a whole in the development which might take place if there was little more freedom in this matter?

So far as the taking of hides is concerned there is one main group who have a number of factories. In regard to dealing in hides there is no monopoly. Numerous firms are engaged in that trade.

We are sending out hides which are being stored in warehouses and distributed to tanneries in the European Community and elsewhere, and we are buying some of the finished leathers from which we make the goods quoted here in the £38 million exports that the Minister talks about.

We are sending out hides, not by any means exclusively to the European Community. I have not the figures here but my recollection is that the great bulk of them go into eastern Europe.

Is the Minister aware that the 300 threatened redundancies in Irish tanneries announced today stem from the importation of finished leather goods into the EEC countries?

These three questions do not relate to any particular tannery or to employment. They relate to imports and exports of leather to and from this country. Without prejudice to that, I am aware that South American exports of leather in particular have affected seriously the trade in leather in the Community including this country.

Is the Minister aware of the statement by the largest union of the country threatening to block cattle exports if the livelihood of the 300 workers mentioned by the Deputy is not protected?

Question No. 16. That does not arise.

I have one supplementary question. Is it not true that the whole problem stems from the fact that South American countries do not allow the export of raw skins and hides, referred to by Deputy Blaney, to EEC countries including Ireland? Is this not the kernel of the problem? If so, what do the Government propose to do?

My information is that three of the larger South American countries do not allow the export of hides from their countries. The result is that hides are sold to tanneries in those countries for little or nothing to the detriment of the cattle producers. Those hides are, in turn, processed into leather which is being sold on the European market at extremely low prices with which European producers cannot compete. We, in common with several other governments in the Community, have over the past number of months, since this situation became clear, made very strong representation indeed to the Commission—who are the only people who can do it—asking them to take steps to control the import of this cheap leather which is distorting the market in the Community and which we and the Community generally feel is an unfair form of competition for Community tanneries.

Should the Government not immediately insist that an embargo be placed on imports of finished leather goods from the countries the Minister has mentioned if they do not allow us access to their supply of cheap skins and hides?

No, I think that our exports of finished products from them are not very significant because they are not exporting finished products. They are exporting leather into the Community which is manufactured in the Community into finished products.

(Cavan-Monaghan): They are exporting cheap leather.

Exporting cheap leather, yes.

Question No. 16.

One final question.

We have had too many question already on this.

I ask the Minister whether we export untreated hides and import finished leathers which we could produce from those same hides and skins? Is there not something wrong somewhere that this is going on?

No, the Deputy has got the matter wrong. Irish hides are suitable for processing into only certain types of leather and for manufacture into certain types of leather goods. We have to import those. It should be borne in mind also, as I pointed out at the start, that our exports of leather goods exceed our imports considerably.

What are the net exports?

Question No. 16.