THE East African Community (EAC) Leather Forum has urged the bloc to create readily accessible market for leather products. The forum has called for EAC to fast track the implementation of Regional Leather Strategy.
The forum was convened by the East African Business Council (EABC) and brought together over 40 industry champions in leather manufacturing from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The forum has recommended for the creation of a readily accessible regional market for leather products and a conducive business environment to promote regional value addition in the leather sector.
According to World Bank Kenya Leather Industry - Diagnosis, Strategy and Action Plan, Leather and Leather products are among the most widely traded agro-based commodities in the world.
The industry has a global estimated trade value of over US$ 150 billion a year, more than five times that of coffee.
Despite owning about 15 per cent of the world's cattle population, Africa accounts for only eight percent of the world production of cattle hides and four per cent of world leather production.
Speaking at the opening session, Mr Christophe Bazivamo, EAC Deputy Secretary General (Productive and Social Sectors), said the EAC Secretariat and the Partner States have prioritised the development of the Leather Sector Value Chain for job creation and as a means of providing affordable, new and quality options for leather products to the citizens.
The 19th Ordinary Summit held in February 2018 in Kampala, directed the Council to put in place mechanisms that support leather manufacturing in the region.
The EAC Secretariat is currently finalising the development of a regional EAC Leather and Leather Products Strategy (2019 - 2029).
In his remarks, Mr Peter Mathuki, EABC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), said that leather is one of the flagship sectors of the EAC and that there is need for continuous and collective advocacy to ensure effective implementation of the regional EAC Leather and Leather Products Strategy (2019 - 2029).
"The government should fast track implementation of regional leather strategy, be the first consumer of leather products and ease trading of leather products among the EAC Partner State," said Mr Mathuki.
He urged leather industry players to embark on the formation of a regional leather association in close partnership with the EABC.
Ms Beatrice Mwasi, Secretary General of Kenya Leather Apex Society, urged EAC leather industry to be more innovative, improve branding and urged the EAC Partner States to offer incentives for value addition in the leather sector.
Among challenges facing the leather sector include lack of defined standards, poor quality infrastructure of tanneries and abattoirs, illicit trade, insufficient supply of chemicals, equipment and accessories used in leather, import levy on leather inputs by some Partner States, policy incoherence and uncontrolled imports of leather.