Feb 12, 2008
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Canada's fur trade route leads to Russia : China

Feb 12, 2008

MONTREAL, Feb 12, 2008 (AFP) - For 400 years, Canada sold most of its wild animal pelts to Europe -- but now Russia and China have become its biggest markets as their booming economies breed a wealth of fur fashionistas.

"Now our biggest market without any doubt is Russia, and the second biggest is China," said James Gibb, spokesman for the Fur Harvesters Auction (FHA), a fur auction house in North Bay, Ontario.

"That is a big shift from 20 years ago because the big markets would have been North America and Europe."

Russia is one of the principal producers of wild animal furs in the world, followed by the United States, Canada and Scandinavia.

However Russian trappers are unable to keep up with skyrocketing domestic demand, spurred by the country's nouveaux riches.

Canada is renowned for its fine beaver, lynx, sable, wolf, bear and other pelts.

Trappers here sell their wares directly to buyers from around the world who visit them in the countryside, or travel to auction houses such as FHA and the North American Fur Auctions (NAFA).

"The wild pelts are bought in North America, shipped to China, where they're made into garments and then exported to North America or to Russia. Most of it is going to Russia," explained Gibb.

In Canada, several firms stitch fur coats, but labor costs are much higher than in China.

"China is now a big buyer of Canadian pelts, but has also become a major competitor in the fabrication of fur coats," said Alan Herscovici, president of the Fur Council of Canada.

The rise of China and Russia as major fur importers marks an important development in the fur trade, he told AFP.

The fur trade was historically the main focus of relations between early French settlers and natives in Canada some 400 years ago. European trappers in search of pelts helped map much of North America.

Since the 1980s, animal rights campaigns helped stem the demand for fur in western nations, even as haute couture designers in Paris and Milan kept fur in vogue among European society.

On runways, fur is again fashionable, at least as an accessory, a hat or trim, if not for full-length coats.

"We still see the fashion centers of Europe -- Paris and Milan -- leading world fashions and those designers are still using fur. If they did not use and promote this product in Europe it would not be as fashionable in other markets," said Robert Cahill, director of the Fur Institute of Canada.

To counter animal rights activists' derision of its business, and to try to revive demand for fur in the West, the Canadian fur industry launched an advertising campaign touting fur as "eco-friendly."

Proponents of the fur trade argue that wild animal pelts are a renewable resource.

"Wild fur has always been eco-friendly," said Herscovici. "If you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, buy less synthetic furs," made in part from petroleum, he said.

by Guillaume Levallee

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