International Trade Commission Publishes Imperfect but Valuable Resource
February 10, 2004 – An independent federal fact finding agency in Washington, DC has published a comprehensive report on the trade in untreated fur pelts, from a U.S. perspective.Industry & Trade Summary: Fur Skins (USITC Publication 3666, January 2004) has been produced by the U.S. International Trade Commission as part of an ongoing series of reports on products traded internationally by the U.S.
The 57-page report is far-reaching in scope, covering the farming and trapping/hunting of furbearers in the US, the marketing of pelts, importing and exporting, and profiles of other countries involved in the trade.
As a comprehensive and well-sourced overview of the modern pelt trade, this report should prove valuable to professionals in one area of the trade looking to improve their understanding of the larger picture.
That said, readers must be mindful of two important, though perhaps inevitable, contrainsts on its usefulness.
The first stems from its reliance on statistics over a short timeline, 1998-2002, and the assumption that they are indicative of current trends.
The fur trade is in a constant state of flux, and a trend that appeared obvious yesterday may be thrown out the window tomorrow. For instance, according to Oslo Fur Auctions, in 2003 Denmark’s share of world mink production slipped almost 5% while China’s output rose correspondingly. Poland also is emerging as an important second-tier producer, yet received no mention in the report. A resource of this kind must be updated regularly, or risk early retirement to the history library.
The second constraint on the report’s usefulness comes from its narrow focus on the trade in unprocessed pelts, only a part of the fur trade as a whole. Readers must be mindful of this, lest they come away with the wrong idea.
For example, the report emphasizes the decline of pelt consumption in the US, but fails to place this in context, leaving casual readers with the false impression that fur consumption in America is down. Production of finished garments in the US has indeed declined, while that in China has increased exponentially. Yet many of the garments made in China use American pelts and are exported back to the US where retail sales for the winter of 2003-4 look headed for an all-time high. By failing to provide a broader perspective in this and other areas, the report may prove misleading to readers who do not already have a basic grounding in the dynamics of the fur trade.
These general criticisms aside, it is hard to fault the report except at the level of minutiae. Errors or misinterpretations are often obvious only to people who are already experts in an area, and in a report of this scope it is unrealistic to expect one person to catch them all. This reviewer caught the following.
Recycling a notion that is in danger of becoming an urban myth, the report states matter-of-factly: “Pressure from animal rights and animal welfare groups have led many European countries to pass legislation banning fur farming or making it economically unviable to raise fur-bearing animals.”
Yet in reality – as the report’s own table bears out – decisions not to permit fur farming have only been reached in Austria, the Netherlands (fox and chinchilla only), and most of the U.K. Three countries do not “many countries” make! But the report’s authors are determined. To bolster the illusion of overwhelming numbers, they itemize the UK as Great Britain [sic], Wales and Scotland, and add Sweden to the list for good measure.
Aside from the geographical error of confusing Great Britain with England, no reference is made to the total lack of fur farms in Wales prior to London’s decision to cancel permits. However, in fairness, the report does mention that Scotland had no fur farms either, explaining that it passed a measure to stop farmers from Great Britain (of which Scotland is a part) and Wales (which had no fur farmers anyway) relocating there. Sweden, meanwhile, should never have been included in the list at all. As the table comically notes, a single political party once voted for a ban on fur farming in Sweden, but the government refused to consider it.
Fur Facts, one-stop look at all aspects of the fur industry. (PDF format)
Mink Farming in the USA, four-page leaflet produced by FCUSA.(PDF format) [BROKEN LINK; WHERE IS THE DOWNLOADABLE?]
“Industry & Trade Summary : Fur Skins” can be downloaded from the web in PDF format, or obtained free of charge by calling 202-205-1809, faxing 202-205-2104, or writing to the Office of the Secretary, U.S. International Trade Commission, 500 E Street SW, Washington, DC 20436.