By Devika Jyothi
A team of 11 delegates from the East African leather sector, including tanners and representatives from the government and trade support institutions, were in India from 31 January – 6 February 2017 to learn more about the Indian leather industry and to explore business opportunities. This was a follow on to the visit in November 2016 of an Indian delegation led by M. Rafeeque Ahmed Mecca, President, All India Hide and Leather Tanners and Merchants Association (AISHTMA) to SITA target countries, Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania to look at trade and investment opportunities.
Facilitated by the International Trade Centre (ITC), through Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA), the visit was arranged to coincide with the 32nd India International Leather Fair 2017, held from 1-3 February in Chennai. The Fair was an opportunity for the East African delegation to showcase their products and services and establish new business connections with Indian and global manufacturers and businesses. Organised by the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), the theme of the event this year was ‘Enabling Leather’. The rationale behind the slogan is to promote “vendor development, backward and forward linkages and explore marketing opportunities,” as well as a greener and more sustainable leather sector.
IILF 2017 had nearly 460 exhibitors displaying leather products such as wet blue, finished leather, shoes, fashion accessories, travel goods, chemicals, machinery and equipment. More than 160 overseas exhibitors attended, with China, France, Germany, Italy and Brazil setting up national pavilions at the Fair.
“This is the first time we have participated in a global expo and the opportunity has been especially beneficial. We received several business enquiries and were able to reconnect and revive business with four former customers from India, China, Madagascar, including the possibility for a joint venture,” commented Hussein Albaiti, Director, Lake Trading Company, Tanzania.
“Also, it’s good to show buyers that we have global exposure. Before, we were more or less ignorant of the global prices and possibilities. This participation in a way facilitates a shift in power from the buyer to the seller. We now need to leverage that,” Mr. Albaiti added.
On average, the eight East African tanners received 10-12 potential enquiries each, which may translate to new, long-term business relationships. “I regularly import wet blue from East Africa,” said Mr. Sunil Kumar Malhotra, a leather manufacturer from New Delhi.
“Indian buyers are generally not very aware of the potential of East Africa to produce good quality leather. Their presence here will change that perception,’ observed Mr. Krishnamurti, a manufacturer from Pune. “I will be contacting Lake Traders about business possibilities,” he added.
“Sector-specific expos are particularly beneficial, attracting the right audience and response from visitors,” observed Yassin Awale, Leather Sector Advisor, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, Government of Kenya.
“The IILF has provided us a platform to put Uganda on the global leather map,’ commented Hope Waiara of Uganda Investment Authority. “The visitor turnout has been excellent. While our products meet quality standards regionally, the exposure helps us to understand global requirements and improve further.”
“Uganda as an investment destination should simultaneously look at the associated industries such as accessories, and consider capacity building in those industries, to improve the scope for employment generation,” Ms. Waira added.
“There has been a lot of interest in wet blue and crust from East Africa as well as the exporting of chemicals and equipment to East Africa. At the expo tanners got the opportunity to meet the best producers and suppliers. We see prospects of the industry being revived with business interest not just from India, but from across the world,” commented Nicholas Mudungwe, Programme Coordinator, COMESA/LLPI.
During the visit, the team also attended a one-day workshop on Leather technology trends at the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), Business-to-Business (B2B) Meet at Ambur Trade Centre as well as field visits to tannery, Shafeeq Shammel & Co; a shoe factory, Aston Shoes Private Limited in Ambur, and to the Common Effluent Treatment Plant in Ranipet.
“We are impressed with the visit to Farida/Aston Shoes and are keen on establishing collaboration with this company. This will help build our capacity, and promote Kenya as a potential supplier of quality footwear. It will have a lasting impact on the development of the leather sector in East Africa,” said Niazali J. Hirani, Leather Sector Head, Leather Industries of Kenya Limited. The Group also owns Leather Industries of Uganda Limited and Moshi Leather Industries, Tanzania.
“We will need ITC, SITA to help initiate the interest. Kenya offers many opportunities for foreign investors/partners at its EPZ Park, with all the necessary infrastructure and a 10-year tax-free policy. Investment bringing new technologies could revolutionize the sector,” observed Mr. Hirani.
Over 50 tanners from Chennai participated in the B2B Meet, organised in association with AISHTMA, at Ambur. One-on-one meetings were organised with the East African delegation to explore business and investment opportunities.
“The meetings at the fair and the B2B meet have been very positive; I have managed to get over 12 new contacts. Most have requested samples, which I am arranging,” said Mr. Fahd Feisal, Director, Nakuru Tanners Limited. “The tannery visit was extremely good as I learnt how they preserve the raw skins – especially in hot climates, the cleanliness and up-keep of the tannery and the three quality control stages in production,” he added.
On possible business tie-ups, N. Shafeeq Ahmed, Managing Partner of Shafeeq Shammel & Co, said: “Now that the linkages have been established, the next step would be matching, sorting and packaging the different grades of leather/wet blue against the comparable Indian grades, creating a reference chart (with a +/- 10 variance possibly), which could help us while sourcing raw material and look at options for importing from East Africa.”
“This programme has come at an opportune time. It’s comprehensive, practical-oriented and tailor made for individual tanners. Specific recommendations have been quite positive. Going forward, a pilot programme needs to be designed and implemented as well as documented and shared with the sector-wide stakeholders to facilitate the development of the sector,” Mr. Awale remarked.
“SITA programme will definitely click, it will yield results. Since our first meeting with SITA in September 2016, work has been very positive, purposeful and results-oriented. While long-standing business relationships and joint-venture opportunities may take its time, an exchange of product information and possibilities of technology transfer could bring in immediate gains. Strengthening the sector associations and replicating India’s marketing potential are other aspects which could be leveraged for mutual benefit,” Mr. Ahmed expressed his optimism on the project.