After ready-made garments, could leather be the next big thing for Bangladesh? It may be too early to answer, but if early signs are considered, then the future for Bangladesh’s leather industry may indeed be promising. Already, leather has become the second largest export earning sector for Bangladesh, with an eye on reaching US$ 5 billion in exports by 2021.Leathertech, the largest leather industry show in Bangladesh, has drawn a record response this year, in its fifth edition, making industry watchers enthusiastic. “This year, we have seen a record response from visitors, especially buyers from abroad, who are keen to source leather from Bangladesh because of its superior quality,” said Tipu Sultan Bhuiyan, on behalf of the organisers of the event. “We are also seeing a good participation from leather technology companies who are showcasing cutting-edge leather processing equipment—machinery for tanning leather, manufacturing footwear and leather goods along with components, dyes and chemicals, accessories, and allied products—in this fair,” he added.The ministry of commerce and the Leather goods and Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh (LFMEAB) are the joint organisers of the event, for which the theme this year is ‘Think Ahead, Think Bangladesh’. The event, being held at the International Convention Centre in Dhaka’s Bashundhara, concluded yesterday.Around 70 foreign buyers visited the fair on Thursday to look at opportunities for sourcing raw material, as they find Bangladeshi leather to be of high quality, added Bhuiyan, a director at ASK Trade and Exhibitions Pvt Ltd, which is managing the event.Like previous years, Leathertech has created a platform for the local leather processing companies to showcase themselves to local and overseas buyers.Besides, foreign leather technology companies also held short workshops at the venue to introduce cutting-edge technologies which the local participants keenly observed and found to be very effective for the growth of the leather industry.The prime objective of Leathertech is to introduce Bangladeshi products to overseas buyers and to learn about new technologies that can benefit the industry which has a great potential, said Bhuiyan. Bangladeshi leather products have already created their markets overseas, and the share is increasing with time, said a local footwear company representative at the show.”This is a great platform to tell the world that world-class footwear are being produced in Bangladesh,” said Sayed Manzur Elahi, chairman of Apex Group. Apex is one of the largest footwear exporters from Bangladesh and ships its products to Europe, among other destinations across the globe.However, challenges do remain for the sector, especially in the form of infrastructure. Power shortage is one such irritant, apart from lack of capacity at Chittagong Port. Sector players stressed that improving these will be key to turning Bangladesh into a leather powerhouse.Also, finished leather products are yet to be in the show. But the process is underway to showcase such products at the event from next year, organisers said.Nearly 15 leading finished leather product manufacturers came to this year’s show and met with organisers and foreign buyers, confirmed Bhuiyan.Bangladesh earned nearly US$ 1.23 billion from leather and leather product exports in the 2016-’17 fiscal year. In 1972-’73, the country had exported leather worth US$ 16.18 million and footwear worth US$ 18,000!Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the event along with commerce minister Tofail Ahmed, where she made the announcement to set up two new leather industrial estates in Chittagong and Rajshahi divisions, in order to boost local and foreign investment in the leather sector and to help the local companies flourish.She also emphasised on the need to spread leather industrial estates all over Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina opened the three-day show through a video conference from her Ganabhaban residence.She also mentioned her government’s initiatives to set up an environment-friendly leather industrial zone in Savar, adding that the government is considering continuing 15 per cent cash incentive for the next five years, on a priority basis.Besides, in order to maintain international standards for the products, the Prime Minister mentioned establishing a testing and calibration centre to ensure international standards for Bangladeshi products.Leading players of Bangladeshi leather sector, top global brands, and international buyers from 15 countries—including China, India, Vietnam and Thailand—are participating in Leathertech this year, which boasts of around 250 stalls.Leather industry leaders expressed their happiness after getting so many assurances from the Prime Minister, especially on the announcement for import of spare parts to set up leather processing units, and assurance of loans from the Export Development Fund of the Bangladesh Bank on short and easy terms.This year, Leathertech has received support by Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather goods & Footwear Exporter Association (BFLLFEA), Bangladesh Tanners Association (BTA), Bangladesh Paduka Prostutkarak Samity (BPPS). The event has been endorsed by the Council for Leather Exports (CLE) and Indian Footwear Components Manufacturers Association (IFCOMA), said Nandagopal Kadambi, a director at ASK Trade and Exhibitions.