The mainland's leather exports slowed down this year, but the industry has been largely unaffected by the Asian meltdown, a leading mainland authority said yesterday. Vice-secretary general of the China Leather Industry Association, Su Chaoying, said leather export growth in February dropped five percentage points to 12 per cent year-on-year. Exports that month totalled US$1.36 billion. 'The Asian economic storm has had a negative impact on our industry,' Mr Su said. He said exports to South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia dropped by 20-30 per cent this year but the decline was compensated for by a rise in exports to Europe and the US. About 40 per cent of the mainland's leather products are exported, and totalled nearly $10 billion last year. Europe and the US take up to 85 per cent of the country's leather exports, eastern Europe and Russia about 10 per cent, while Southeast Asia accounts for 5 per cent. Mr Su said 'a proper level of devaluation of the yuan at a proper time' would help increase the exports but may cause chaos in the market. The association's secretary general Zhang Shuhua said: 'Devaluation would bring chain reactions to the industry in terms of loans, foreign investment and other areas. It would be disastrous,' she said. The mainland is one of the world's leading leather producers with more than 20,000 tanneries and is the world's largest footwear producer, manufacturing more than 43 per cent of the world's output. Representatives of the French leather industry yesterday said they would continue to invest in Hong Kong, despite the downturn. 'I think there is great potential and interest in Asian markets as good quality leather shoes and goods are emerging in Hong Kong and Japan,' Ursula Mandenoff, export manager of the Federation Francaise de la Tannerie-Megisserie, said. 'We are also looking to China and Taiwan.'