AS I write, the annual travel programme has once more begun and January will find the Leather International editorial team in Istanbul, Barcelona, Miaimi Beach and Chennai.

While it is too soon to know the outcomes of the various events, some predictions can be made. After two years of shutdowns, mergers and relocations to China, the US leather industry has been hard hit. And despite its original aim to serve all the Latin American markets, the Panamerican Leather Fair found most of its past success based on the North American market.

The greatest number of core exhibitors came from Europe as they fell over each other to break into the huge and valuable American market. It is still an immensely important market but, for the first time, many European companies will not take part this year. The writing was already on the wall before the terrorist attacks of September 11 changed the face of American trading for the forseeable future.

According to Michael Duck, a PAL director, the fair will still be the largest leather event in the North American market in 2002 and Charlie Myers, LIA president, says the US is still the world’s largest market and home of the many decision makers.

Myers adds: ‘Even though much of the manufacturing has long since moved offshore, many of the buying decisions are still made here in America.’

It is the magnet that is the USA that has attracted new participants for this year’s event from Russia and Mongolia. However, due to the events of September 11, would-be participants from several regions were unable to obtain entrance visas. Duck predicts a leaner show but a totally focused one with a good deal of solid support.

India is another country whose leather industry has been having a tough time of it. Exports have been badly hit by the activities of animal rights activists and now the potential war between themselves and Pakistan will probably discourage a number of overseas visitors.

Pielespana in Spain is a more difficult call. This is an attractive fair in a country with a relatively successful leather industry but nowhere in Europe are there any signs of an immediate upswing from the current difficult trading conditions.

Only with International Leather Days in Türkiye is there no need for me to conjecture. Despite last minute rearrangements because heavy snow had collapsed the roof in one of the halls, the fair was a big success. Both exhibitor and visitor numbers were up on last year, with the last day seeing major traffic jams in the corridor linking the two main halls together.

One exhibitor commented that he thought the Turkish market would become the next China in five years, although we’ll have to wait and see whether such an ambitious comment comes to fruition.

But in general, the mood was very positive for the future. None of the tanneries are working at full capacity, so there is certainly plenty of room for growth.

Many exhibitors are optimistic that 2002 will be the beginning of an upward turn, and with the European market falling backwards, Turkish tanners are working even harder to improve quality. Indeed, quality appears to be the key for the future of the Turkish market.

Five years ago, the Turkish market was producing a lot of leather but quality was low. Now the situation has reversed, with some believing that the gap in the market between Türkiye and Italy is getting smaller year by year. There are certainly hopes that Türkiye may soon become one or the most important doubleface market in the world.

Yet image is also something that the Turkish industry needs to improve. One exhibitor was relating the story of an attractive and stylish Turkish woman at the exhibition, but onlookers commented that she must be Italian because a Turkish woman would never dress that way!