“The local leather industry is stagnating because most producers can only supply the raw material or wet-blue, which some countries consider inferior and choose not to import,” he said.

Silver Swan is the only company in Myanmar capable of manufacturing semi-finished (30%) leather, which is turned into finished leather by manufacturers in other countries, including China, Thailand and India.

Other players in the industry are limited to producing raw leather, which involves preserving the animal skin by salting it.

The Chinese government prohibits imports of raw hides from Myanmar because of its potential to carry bacteria that could cause diseases in humans. Nevertheless, it is exported to China illegally across the border at Muse in Shan State.

“China imports approximately 50 tonnes of wet-blue at a cost of about US$150 a tonne,” said U Kyin Su, the owner of Silver Swan.

U Kyin Su paid an Indian company $5000 to buy the technology needed to make wet-blue, he said.

“Myanmar’s leather industry faces many challenges in order to expand. The main issues include a lack of electricity, inadequate water treatment and drainage systems and insufficient space to operate.

“Because of the smells which are produced during the manufacturing process, it is necessary to keep the tanneries isolated” said U Kyin Su.

The leather industry was nationalised in 1962 and owners of businesses that continued to operate privately were arrested.

“Although the government lifted this ban in 1989, developing infrastructure has never been a priority,” he added.

Myanmar Leather Association was established in June 2012 and comprises 20 central executive committee members. The association’s aim is to expand the industry by garnering the skills of leather technicians from across the nation and utilising more efficient technology, he said.

According to a spokesperson from the association, Myanmar’s wet-blue leather sells for less than $1 a square foot, while wet-blue produced in Italy or India generates a much better price per square foot.

Source: The Myanmar Times