EU conference on sustainability

4 June 2004

On May 27, 2004, a conference on Sustainability and the Leather sector took place at the premises of the European Commission. It was organized by DG ENTR, the European Leather Association (COTANCE) and the Trade Union (ETUF-TCL) and was attended by numerous members of the European Institutions, leather sector and annexed industries representatives (leathergoods, textiles, chemicals …). Commissioner Liikanen took part in the opening session, informing those present about the Commission Communication on Fostering Structural Changes at EU level, proclaiming a new friendly regulatory environment based on open consultations and specific impact assessments. He also stated the need for mobilising all EU policies at stake and contributing to a more certain and predictable marketplace, setting up sectoral responses to challenges. European conditions for competitiveness have changed greatly in the past 20 years. Moreover, EU environmental legislation has place a heavy burden on European industries. This includes the leather sector, a sector that bases its importance not only on economical grounds but also, and mainly, on its role of transforming waste into valuable animal byproducts (a very ecological goal). These are hard times for tanning hides and skins, one of the oldest professions in the world. Fears of tanneries regarding de-industrialization and de-localization eastwards are ever growing. An economic and social dumping is taking place without the Institutions and governments doing much about it. Environmental legislation in the EU is going faster than the market can absorb and production is being relocated overseas. European industry calls for a level playing field through reciprocity and harmonization of duties (especially on EU exports of raw materials) The leather sector is also demanding more transparent and clear legislation and extensive recognition of the performance of the sector through a labelling system ('mark of origin') that should be used to identify the different components of the finished leather products. Finally, the industry claims the right to secure access to raw materials and the need for further investment in competitive advantages in the sector. It believes that the industry should receive consideration and given its relevance at an economic and social level. The challenges are there, tanneries have already played their part and they wait for the institutions to play theirs

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