The US hide, skin and leather industry set a new record in 2014, exporting more than $2.85 billion of cattle hides, pig skins, and semi-processed leather products.

US hides and skins companies including producers, processors, brokers and dealers regularly export over 90% of total US production of these products and are one of the top raw materials suppliers to the global leather manufacturing industry.

According to US Department of Agriculture statistics, US exports of wet salted cattle hides (cattle hides that have been preserved using brine solutions) dropped slightly to $1.8 billion in value, a 1.2% decrease from 2013 levels. However, exports of wet blue cattle hides (semi-processed hides that have undergone the first stages of leather tanning), jumped 21% to over $959 million. The US industry is undergoing a multi-year transition towards lower wet salted cattle hide sales and increasing wet blue sales, reflecting the higher value these products fetch in the market.

China was the largest buyer of both products, with imports of wet salted cattle hides valued at over $1.1 billion (a slight 0.8% increase over 2013) and $374 million of wet blue products, a 33% increase over 2013. Other large destination markets include Korea, Taiwan, Mexico and the European Union.

US pigskin exports dropped 4% in value to $54 million. The largest market for US pigskins continues to be Mexico, accounting for nearly half of all US exports.

"The US hides and skins industry continues to be a stalwart of US agricultural exports," said Stephen Sothmann, president of the US Hide, Skin and Leather Association (USHSLA). "However, if we wish to build on this success, we must look critically at our export infrastructure, especially our port operations."

The ongoing West Coast port labour dispute has nearly crippled the movement of products heading to Asian markets. USHSLA estimates between $40-$45 million worth of hides, skins and wet blue products are transported via West Coast ports each week, which have all but halted as a result of the ongoing negotiations between the port operators and labour unions.