Italy has overtaken China as the largest importer of leather from the US, according to new data that also suggests leather and hide production in the US has seen a "drastic" downturn.

Italy imported 56,000 tonnes of leather from the US in 2018, followed by China at 50,000 tonnes and Vietnam at 30,000 tonnes, according to research firm IndexBox in its latest report: 'US Leather And Hide Market. Analysis And Forecast to 2025.'

Leather and hide exports from the US amounted to 161,000 tonnes in total last year, worth $506m. The most prominent rate of growth was recorded in 2014 when exports increased by 24% against the previous year, reaching a peak of $949m.

Leather and hide consumption continues to indicate a drastic downturn according to the report. Revenues of producers and exporters fell 12.1% year-on-year to US$558m. The pace of growth was most rapid back in 2015 when the market value increased by 0.6% against the previous year; and consumption peaked at $1.1bn in 2013.

In terms of suppliers of leather to the US market in 2018, leather and hide imports were 11,000 tonnes in 2018. Brazil was the largest at 4,900 tonnes, accounting for 45% share of total imports – three times the figures recorded by the second-largest supplier, Uruguay (1,800 tonnes).

However, Brazil's position could be threatened by concerns over the number of fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest, which according to the BBC have reached the highest number since 2010. The increase is directly related to intentional deforestation, according to the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Ipam), with fires often used as a way of clearing land for cattle ranches.

VF Corp, the owner of brands including Timberland and Vans, has said it will no longer source leather or hides from Brazil until it can be sure they are produced without environmental harm. Likewise, H&M is to stop sourcing leather from the location "until there are credible assurance systems in place to verify that the leather does not contribute to environmental harm in the Amazon." 

The IndexBox research also suggests the average leather and hide import price fell 8.2% year-on-year in 2018 to $19 per kg. This compares with a peak level of $23 per kg in 2014. By the country of origin, the highest priced was China ($28 per kg), while Argentina was amongst the lowest ($14 per kg).