Since Zlin is the original home of the Tomas Bata shoe empire, it provided a fitting venue for the fourteenth session of the Unido Leather and Leather Products Industry panel in mid December. Indeed it was the Thomas Bata Foundation who provided the venue and acted as joint organisers with the Technical University of Brno.

The meeting was previously scheduled for Istanbul, Türkiye, in September 1999, but was cancelled at the last moment due to the tragic and devastating earthquake in that country.

The meeting of the leather panel enables members to meet with Unido administrators from a number of regional projects around the world. The aim is to help the poorer countries to develop their industry and move them along in their quest to become self-sufficient.

Sadly the clear message from this meeting was that it is becoming harder to attract funds from the various donor countries.

Funding peaked in 1990 with the greatest injection of money into the Africa project. Funds are now back to around the 1988 level of $3.2 million.

The panel was established in 1978 to advise Unido on the problems of the world leather and derived products industry and to assist in elaborating strategies for providing technical assistance in the sector. The sixteen regular and six honourary members are from government agencies, private business, academic and other institutes from both industrialised and developing countries.

Panel members present at the meeting included: Jorge Chacon-Solano, deputy director, Centro de Tecnologia del Cuero, Costa Rica; Carlos J O Costa, managing director of Superior Footwear Merchandising, Zimbabwe (who also own Imponente Tannery); Ibrahima Diané, office of livestock and meat, Mali; Marc Folachier, director, CTC France; Dr Petr Hlavacek, Technical University Brno; Samir K Ramadan, managing director, K H Ramadan, Egypt; Farrukh Hussain Sheikh, president, Pakistan Tanners Association; Song Xian Wen, Shanghai Leather Technology Centre; John M V Williams, ICT.

Among the honourary members, invited organisations and observers also attending Gustavo Gonzalez,Quijano, Cotance, and Ron Sauer, ITC Geneva, were invited to address the panel with regard to the activities of their own agencies.

An extremely interesting presentation by Jan Pivecka covering the ‘Trends in the Central and East European Footwear Industry’ highlighted two of the difficulties of accurately tracking industries of any kind. Firstly you can appear to export more than you produce if you are manufacturing under contract for an overseas company who supply the raw materials and secondly many of the statistics provided are highly questionable.

Pivecka admitted to having a healthy distrust of statistics but insisted they were necessary in order to plot trends. Therefore, he requests that his sources apply the same standards throughout; if you cheat at the beginning you should cheat at the same level throughout.

Another paper which was particularly apt for today’s industry, was given by Thierry Poncet for the CTC. The work, by F Rohou who has now left the centre, looked at waste generation and ways of minimising or eliminating it in the leather industry. The CTC are involved in a Craft project aimed at improving raw material utilisation and reducing chrome containing waste.

The industry in the Czech Republic is not without its difficulties. The auction of the bankrupt Kozeluzny Otrokovice tannery took place in December but there were no bidders. The Konsolidacni Banka bank is the largest creditor.

On the brighter side, the bankrupt Svit Zlin footwear producer in the Czech Republic was expected to record a profit in the year 2000.

Svit annually sells one million pairs of footwear to Timberland, with sales to the US company to increase in 2001.

There are 12 – 14 tanneries currently active in the republic.