THE prospects of leather exports this year appear to be bright in view of some positive developments centering the Eid-ul-Azha celebration. An unofficial estimate claimed that there was a 10 per cent increase in the number of animals sacrificed during this year's Eid over that of the last year. What is more important is that the government made adequate security arrangements to stop smuggling of raw hides and skin out of the country through, what are generally regarded as, porous borders. The tanners and exporters of leather and leather goods have been found to be upbeat about the possible growth in export earning this year. However, according to report published in this daily Saturday, some tension has surfaced over the price of raw hides and skin between the retail and wholesale traders in the industry. It is expected that the dispute over price between the two sides would be settled amicably.
There is no denying that the situation relating to hides and skin trade on the occasions of last two Eid-ul-Azhas improved remarkably. There were no reports of violence over collection and sale of raw hides and skins. Troubles, including those relating to murders, over collection of hides and skins of sacrificial animals were routine affairs during the Eid-ul Azha celebrations earlier. Local musclemen actually controlled the trade and used to enforce their own rates for hides and skins, depriving the people of their due price. During this year's Eid-ul-Azha, being specially instructed by the ministry of home affairs, the law enforcers had taken allout preparations to stop any untoward incident over raw hide trade. The police and the members of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) do deserve appreciation for their excellent work. The leather sector for long has been longing for trouble-free trade during the Eid-ul-Azha when about 40 per cent of the annual demand for hides and skin is met.
Ensuring adequate supply of raw and hides and skin to tanneries and other leather goods manufacturing units is an important responsibility on the part of the government. But it is equally important to ensure proper and healthy growth of the entire leather sector that also includes tanneries, which are regarded as 'dirty industry'. On paper, the government has identified the sector as a 'thrust sector' but its actions hardly match its avowed policies for the sector. A number of flawed policy decisions in the past and foot-dragging over a number of important decisions in recent times have denied the leather industry of its deserved success. Sometimes back, the government had decided to shift the existing tanneries from the city's Hazaribagh area to a new industrial park at the outskirts of the city. But the implementation of the project, unfortunately, is progressing at a snail's pace.
Currently, Bangladesh is exporting leather and leather goods worth $230 million a year, which is a negligible 0.4 per cent of the world leather market. There is ample scope for increasing its share gradually provided all the stakeholders make an allout efforts to produce quality leather and leather goods at competitive prices. The policy supports from the government in this respect is important, no doubt. But equally important is a concerted drive on the part of the people engaged in the industry itself. In this context, it will not be out of place to mention about the financial crisis the leather traders face on the occasion of every Eid-ul-Azha. A section of tannery owners, whose track records on loan repayments are not clean, engage themselves in lobbying for fresh loans from the public sector banks. The leather traders should discard this bad habit and try to be efficient and competitive in their operations as well as clean in their financial dealings so that banks do compete among themselves to lend money to the leather sector operators.