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  • The Global Platinum Industry

    Like other mined metals, platinum serves as a multipurpose commodity used by various industries throughout the world. Some may value platinum-made jewelry over even 14-carat gold, and when it comes to assembling electronic products platinum is a highly sought-after conductor. This metal has also proven helpful in the automobile industry as an important contributor to the construction of catalytic converters, which help in the "greening" of new cars. It is fair to say, therefore, that platinum plays an important role in global trade and will continue to do so in the future.  
    Quick Facts About the Platinum Mining Industry
    • Platinum is perhaps the rarest of the known metals mined today. Approximately ten tons of ore must be mind and processed to create just one ounce.
    • Every year, the amount of platinum mined is only a tenth of the overall output of gold.
    • Platinum does not tarnish after prolonged exposure to air, and this quality makes the metal highly sought-after for making jewelry.
    • Because of the rarity of this metal, there are no stockpiles for emergencies. Platinum is too much in demand to allow for setting aside reserves.

    Top Producers of Platinum

    Because of the rarity of this metal, it is naturally found only in certain parts of the world, but in demand everywhere. South Africa claims the largest share of production, with more than three-quarters of global output from their mines. Russia ranks a very distant second with barely fifteen percent of the market. Much smaller deposits are also found in India and Canada.

    According to Mineweb, China is the world leader in platinum imports, with over one million ounces brought in for the production of jewelry and electronic parts. Other highly-industrialized countries import platinum as well, though not at China's rate. According to Reuters, Switzerland imported about thirty thousand ounces.

    Challenges in the Platinum Mining Industry

    Despite gradual decreases in platinum imports around the world, the metal remains in demand by auto manufacturers and other industries. According to the Platinum Guild, emerging markets in Asia - including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand - are presently building up presences in the automobile industry by manufacturing catalytic converters for vehicles. As auto companies work to provide more environmentally-friendly products to the public, they will look to platinum as a means of increasing available product.

    The question remains, therefore, is there enough platinum to go around. South Africa holds the key, as it holds the lion's share of natural resources. Until alternative resources are deemed useable by various industries, South Africa stands to benefit greatly in trade.

  • The Global Aluminum Industry

    It makes sense that aluminum is one of the most common elements in our planet, as aluminum is prevalent in nearly everything we use. We drink from aluminum cans, and use foil to protect and cook foods. We used the finished product for containers, transportation, and medical uses. Every day, people around the world come into contact with this product in some way, and because of its malleable and conductive properties it’s possible to see greater innovations imagined for the future.


    Quick Facts About the Aluminum Industry

    • According to the Aluminum Association, the supply in the United States alone totaled almost 25 billion pounds. This includes newly produced aluminum and recycled materials.
    • As one of the planet’s most common elements, aluminum is a highly sought material used in construction, for household purposes, and for military.
    • Aluminum production is prevalent on all major continents, with about 44,0000 metric tonnes produced in 2011. (Source: The International Aluminum Institute)
    • Aluminum comes from bauxite, an ore that is processed to separate aluminum oxide from iron oxide. Alumina, extracted from aluminum oxide, is the primary ingredient in creating the aluminum we use.

    Top Producers/Exporters of Aluminum

    According to the United States Geological Survey, the following countries lead the world in production:

    • China – China’s production for the last few years totaled almost half the global output. In addition to being a large producer, China is also one of the top importers due to growing demand.
    • The United States – The US industry currently focuses on energy efficiency in order to compete in the world market.
    • Russia – Russia is home to RUSAL, the largest aluminum company in the world. RUSAL has interests throughout Eastern Europe and parts of Africa.
    • Canada – After Russia, Canada is the second largest exporter of product, with the United States its largest trade partner.
    • Australia – The Australian industry enjoyed fast growth over the last century, thanks in part to large bauxite deposits.

    Challenges in the Aluminum Industry

    Early in 2012, The Motley Fool reported various concerns in the aluminum industry, noting in particular how some of the top aluminum companies like Alcoa did not surpass revenues from the previous year. An excess of supply can threaten future production, as it appears that manufacturers have more than is needed for projects, forcing some companies to cut production. One silver lining in this situation lies with China, which currently experiences a growing demand for this product.

    One advantage to excess supply, however, could help improve various industries. Because aluminum is lighter than other metals, use in automotive manufacturing could help reduce car emissions and increase fuel efficiency. As consumers become more environmentally and socially conscious, aluminum production and usage stands to play a larger role in industry in the future.  

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Global Silver Mining Industry

    One may presume silver takes a backseat to gold where interest in precious metals is concerned, yet economists and manufacturers highly prized this precious metal. Like gold and copper mining, the production of silver for commercial use and luxury remains an active global industry.
    Quick Facts About the Silver Industry
    • Silver is not always mined directly. Often miners extract silver from ore or copper.
    • Like other precious metals, silver serves as an excellent conductor of heat. Automobile accessory manufacturers have used silver to help with defogging functionality on windows.
    • Silver was once considered a more prized commodity than gold in early civilizations. Wealthy people used silver for eating and storing food because they believed it healthier. Hence, the phrase "born with a silver spoon in his mouth" was coined to describe children in moneyed families.
    • As with the gold rush, the prospect of finding silver in the western part of the United States encouraged expansion and the mining boom.

    Top Producers of Silver

    The CPM Group reported approximately 735 million troy ounces of silver - over twenty-two thousand metric tons - mined globally in 2010. Of the countries responsible for this amount of precious metal, the top producers include:

    • Mexico - Mexico has a long, stored history with silver production. For half a millennium, Mexico has led the world in mining, accounting for a third of the planet's silver. China, the United States, and Canada are counted among the top importers of Mexican silver.
    • Peru - While Peru is known for zinc mining and production, Minerals Yearbook reports that the country exports nearly half a billion dollars in silver to trade partners in the US, China, and throughout the European Union.
    • Australia - According to the Australian Atlas of Minerals Resources, Mines and Processing Centres, about a quarter of the country's overall mining produces silver. Japan is Australia's primary trading partner in this industry, claiming nearly all of it.
    • The United States - Eighteen states from coast to coast produce silver to some degree. According to Bullion Spot Price, the demand for silver in the US has risen dramatically over the last decade, jumping from over four dollars an ounce in 2001 to about forty in 2011.

    Challenges in the Silver Industry

    A recent article in The Market Oracle suggests a risk in silver futures as investors turn toward precious metals for investment, based on the idea that gold and silver in particular rarely diminish in value. This said, it doesn't necessarily imply that mining for silver is at risk, but as investors find gold either too expensive or not accessible, silver will serve as a welcome substitute. Whether this would prompt a shortage in demand has yet to be seen, but with silver a useful product in electronics and other industries, as well as a luxury item, it stands to reason production will continue in the countries that most rely upon this metal.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Global Gold Mining Industry

    While a large percentage of gold mined around the world is used to make items of great value – notably jewelry, collectible currency, and similar possession – you may be surprised to know this precious metal is also valued in the construction of various household objects like televisions and computers. This is because gold, like other metals, is a good conductor of electricity. You may not compare a working refrigerator with an expensive wedding band, but gold can be used in both.

    Gold industry

    • No matter the time, gold remains a good investment. According to the Motley Fool, one ounce of gold was priced at close to nine hundred dollars in 2008, three times the value of one share of Google stock.
    • In South Africa, there are mines that go as deep as twelve thousand feet, topping off well over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Most items that people may believe are pure gold, like certain coins and Olympic gold medals, are actually gold-plated.
    • Gold is a very versatile element. It can be made into thread for fabric or used to design chocolate.
    • The largest gold mine in the world, according to International Business Times, is the Grasberg Gold Mine in Papua, which has produced over two million ounces.

    Top Producers of Gold

    You are likely to find gold on every continent in the world. In some parts of the United States, like Nevada and Georgia, there are mines where visitors can pan for nuggets as prospectors did in the 1800s. When it comes to producing and exporting product, the United States Geological Survey lists the following as the top countries:

    • China – in 2011, China produced overall over 350,000 kilograms of gold. The Zijin Mining Group Ltd is presently the country’s leader in precious metal mining.
    • Australia – Australia’s output was over a quarter of a million kilograms in 2011.
    • The United States – It is estimated that three percent of the world’s output of gold comes from Nevada alone. Nevada accounts for nearly all of American production.
    • Russia – Two hundred thousand kilograms of gold were produced from Russian mines in 2011. The Polyus Company is one of the nation’s largest gold concerns.
    • South Africa – South Africa is one of the world’s leading countries in precious metal mining. In addition to gold, the country also produces large volumes of diamonds, platinum, chrome, and manganese.

    Challenges in the Gold Industry

    If there is one product that could be considered recession proof, it is gold. Gold never seems to lose value and will likely always trade high. This, of course, precipitates the challenge in meeting the demand for gold. According to BullionVault, a decline in skilled workers may contribute to a downtrend in production. Fears of mining accidents, brought to global attention in recent years, may contribute to this growing gap.

    Despite these forecasts, the potential for mining gold and other precious metals remains so long as the resources are available. We are likely to prize gold as a personal possession for many years to come.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Global Plastics Industry

    "Plastics." In the classic film The Graduate, young Benjamin is advised to consider plastics in his career plans because the industry is decidedly primed to play a large role in the future. One can argue that the film correctly predicted the importance of this material, as one finds it in nearly everything we use daily. The food industry, computers and technology, healthcare, and the automotive sector... every corner of global business relies upon some type of plastic to function.


    Quick Facts About the Plastics Industry

    • According to the Plastics Industry Trade Association, growth in the United States alone has risen steadily by more than two percent annually over the last twenty years.
    • According to Plastics Europe, the last three years saw production of plastics increase by six percent.
    • The most widely produced plastic products include polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
    • In the United States, approximately 2.4 billion pounds of plastic bottles are recycled. (Source:
    • Globally, plastic accounts for twelve percent of total recycled materials.

    Top Producers and Exporters of Plastic

    The Middle East has, in recent years, become a leader in the manufacture and export of plastics and plastic materials. According to Yalla Finance, it is estimated that overall production in the region will exceed one hundred million tons by the end of 2012. Among the top producing nations:

    • Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia accounts for more than half of plastics production in the Middle East. Forty million tons on average are moved out annually.
    • Germany - GTAI reports that this industry generates over thirty billion Euro in revenue for Germany.
    • United States - Major corporations like Dow and DuPont have helped the American industry. Exports, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry, average close to four hundred billion dollars a year.
    • Taiwan - With over seven hundred working plants, Taiwan is one of the larger producers of plastics in Asia. According to Plastics News, the country has benefitted from rising costs in China and consequent relocation to Taiwan.
    • Qatar - Qatar ranks behind Saudi Arabia as a top Middle East producer. The majority of their export is traded to other Middle Eastern nations and parts of Europe.

    Challenges in the Plastics Industry

    Though efforts to recycle plastic rise with each passing year, environmental concerns remain a clear challenge for this industry. Advocates of green business cite health concerns attached to the use of plastic products, largely due to the petrochemicals used in production. Alternatives such as corn-based resin have been introduced to create biodegradable alternatives. However, production continues to increase the risk of greenhouse gases.

    One can argue plastics will continue to contribute to other global industries. Progress in technology and medicine may depend upon new innovations in production, and hopefully methods to keep products and increase renewable resources.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Global Copper Industry

    How precious is copper? There once was a time when copper comprised the bulk of a United States cent piece (now it is mostly zinc composition), and recently news of copper thefts have brought awareness to its value. Thieves are willing to take copper from telephone wires and electric substations, often at great personal risk, to sell for scrap. Even in a progressively wireless global community, copper plays an important role in the way we work and live. As an excellent conductor of electricity and heat, this precious metal remains relevant and in high demand.

    Copper Industry

    Quick Facts About the Global Copper Industry

    • The average US household uses about four hundred pounds of copper for various purposes – wiring, cooking, and even for automobile parts. (Source: Arizona Mining Association)
    • Copper is one of the world’s most versatile elements. It is recyclable and malleable, and is used in the creation of brass and bronze.
    • The Statue of Liberty is perhaps the best example of a structure that uses a great amount of copper. Nearly eighty tons were used to build it.
    • According to, there could be as much as 300 million tons of copper not yet discovered in the United States alone.

    On average, about 85 million metric tons may be mined annually around the world.

    Top Countries in Copper Production

    Copper Investing News, from their most recent records, reports the following nations lead the copper industry:

    • Chile – These days, people may associate Chile’s mining industry with the 2010 accident that had the world watching a dramatic rescue of thirty-three trapped miners. Before this occurred, Chile was producing more than five million tons of copper a year, and remains a world leader in the industry. Copper exports account for a third of the nation’s income.
    • United States – Over the last two centuries, copping mining in the US peaked in 2000 with more than two million metric tons produced. A dramatic decrease in production in the next decade resulted in a spike in value, which may explain an uptick in theft. (Source: United States Geological Survey)
    • Peru – Peru is currently the second larger copper producer in the world behind Chile. The country is also home to one of the largest such mines in the world. (Source: USGS)
    • China – Though averaging less than a million tons a year in production, China is a larger consumer of copper and has even looked elsewhere to supplement their reserves. Very recently, a Chinese businessman bid to takeover a mine in Botswana. (Source: CBS)

    The Future of the Copper Industry

    With the versatility of copper comes the growth in opportunity for its use. Copper is used in everything from minting currency to building cargo ships. Telephone lines may one day come down, but the copper used in them can be re-purposed for other necessities. Tapping into reserve mines in the US and a growth in recycling is sure to keep copper a valuable metal anywhere in the world.

  • The Global Wine Industry

    Wine enjoys a rich history that dates back to ancient civilizations. As early as 6,000 BC, men had developed methods of fermenting grapes to produce wine, which was treated as a valuable commodity in trade. As global exploration brought settlers to new lands, so viticulture flourished—evidence of early American vineyards remain in the hybrid Scuppernong vines of the Carolinas and Florida, while visitors of Monticello can tour the grounds where Thomas Jefferson established his personal winery. Today, the wine industry flourishes throughout the world with an expected sales revenue in the billions.

    Global Wine 

    Quick Facts About the Wine Industry

    • According to The Wine Institute, consumption of wine in the United States has grown steadily in the last twenty years, with an increase of more than 250 million gallons. This amounts roughly to two and a half gallons per person.
    • Just Drinks predicts a growth in Chinese wine production and sales, to rise by ten percent by 2015.
    • The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that more than seventy percent of global grape production is used for winemaking. Of the varieties grown, the Spanish Airen grape is the most commonly planted.

    Top Producers of Wine

    Wineries may be found around the world, some in countries one would least expect to see vineyards. From America to Africa, wine production offers the global market one of the most diverse selections of product. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), the top producers currently rank as follows:

    • Italy – Though Italy is reported to have only a third the number of active vineyards as France, the country has barely edged their EU neighbor in terms of wine production. Four and a half million tones of wine come annually from Italy.
    • France – France leaves an indelible mark on global winemaking. Many varietals that originated here are sold to wineries around the world for commercial planting. Top wines from France include Merlot, Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • Spain – Over 400 types of grapes are planted annually in Spain, though the most popular in winemaking include the Tempranillo, Airen, and Garnacha.
    • United States – California is most often associated with wine produced in the US, though nearly every state in the union has at least one active winery. California, New York, Oregon, and Washington state lead the country in wine production.
    • China – According to The Drinks Business, China ranks in the top five of wine-consuming nations. The bulk of their production remains for domestic sales and consumption, though the country is slowly gaining ground on the global scale, with trade to Canada and the United States.

    Future Trends in the Wine Industry

    Some may suggest the wine industry is, like other “vice” businesses, recession proof. Nonetheless, sales and consumption have dipped in markets as they rise in others. Emerging markets like China and Hong Kong are predicted to take more of the spotlight from old world producers like France and Spain, while a growth in organic winemaking processes may give attention to new production paradigms. However and wherever the wine is made, one can expect the industry to take notice.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Global Paper and Pulp Industry

    In recent years we hear more about businesses making the commitment to “go green.” For many, this may entail the gradual phasing out of paperwork in place of digital documents and reports shared online. Newspapers and magazine now offer digital editions that may be read on computers and eBook readers, and bank statements and receipts may be accessed via e-mail. Nonetheless, despite this shift the United States alone consumes nearly half a ton of paper annually, therefore the industry remains critical to global trade.

    Paper and Pulp

    According to a 2007 report from the Environmental Paper Network, not only is nearly half of all wood harvested for commercial use delivered to produce paper products, but the industry as a whole ranks fourth among the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Western Europe’s population accounts for the largest percentage of paper use per person (about a quarter of a ton annually). Surprisingly, of the paper produced globally, less than half of the output is recovered for recycling.

    Top Producers in the Paper Industry

    The paper and pulp industry encompasses more than the production of reams of white sheets you find stacked at your local office supply store. When you think of the paper and pulp, you’ll soon discover it includes hundreds of items—many of which you can find at home and work. Bathroom tissue, newsprint, grocery bags, food packaging, even paper money is touched by this industry. While initiatives toward greener practices in business continue, one can argue we will always rely on paper products to some extent. According to Paper Facts, the top global producers of paper and pulp are:

    • The United States – In 2006, the US Industry and Market Outlook reported over four hundred working paper mills in the country. Exports of product average close to $15 billion.
    • Canada – Paper and pulp production is considered one of this country’s largest industries, close to a sister industry: forestry. One of the nation’s leading manufacturers, AbitibiBowater, Inc., has ranked among the top ten of global producers.
    • Finland – According to RISI, Finnish paper manufacturers have accounted for more than twelve thousand tons of product, making them one of the more productive European countries in this industry.
    • Sweden – Like her neighbor Finland, Sweden ranks high among European pulp and paper producers. A leading company, Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget, maintains nearly three million hectares of forest land for natural resources.
    • China – Currently ranked the highest producer of paper and pulp, China’s output is nearly triple that of the next Asian leader in the industry, Japan.

    Challenges in the Pulp and Paper Industry

    When one considers challenges in paper goods production, it is inevitable one must face issues with pollution and recycling. According to the Environmental Paper Network, while paper-based garbage has decreased over the last decade in the United States, consumption remains high. The act of switching to a reduced fiber paper in US offices alone could significantly reduce pollution in the country by ten percent.

    Elsewhere in the world, other leaders in the industry have had to face challenges. In 2010, a strike among Swedish plant workers affected six mills. Two years later, rumblings in the industry continued until plans for a strike were dropped following a deal to assist workers.

    While we may read more books on our phones and tablets, the need for paper to contain food and keep us clean stays in high demand. The paper industry remains important in the global realm, and hopefully it will change in order to change the environment for the better.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Oil and Petroleum Industry

    Gas, petrol, petroleum…no matter how often we curse the price of it we wait in line to buy more. We may calculate exactly where to find the best costs per gallon or liter as we drive around town, and probably assume it all comes from the same place. It is interesting to note, however, that where we get our oil isn’t always the place we expect.

    Quick Facts About the Industries

    • Oil accounts for more than a quarter of the planet’s energy resource needs. While mainly used to power vehicles and machinery, oil may also be found in other products that are petroleum-based.
    • Oil is not a renewable resource. Typically this means that once it’s used, it’s gone. However, practices are in place that maintain oil reserves, which hold oil that is recovered through various means.
    • The BBC reported in 2006 that over twelve hundred billion barrel of crude remained in reserves, which was estimated to last about forty years.
    • BP reported that same year that the US alone consumes on average twenty billion barrels a year.

    Top Exporters of Oil and Petroleum

    The top producers of crude and petroleum are based in the Middle East, where one will find the largest supply of resources. As for the world’s top exporters, World Factbook reports that these countries include:

    • Russia – Russia exported an estimated 7.5 million barrels in 2010. Main importers of their product include Germany, Norway, and the United States.
    • Saudi Arabia – With well over seven million barrels exported annually, Saudi Arabia offers a great bounty to trade nations China, the United States, and Japan.
    • Iran – Iran’s main trade partners in oil include Spain, India, and The Netherlands.  In 2010, the country shipped out almost 2.5 million barrels.
    • United Arab Emirates – The UAE deals mainly with Japan, Iran and South Korea when it comes to exporting their oil.
    • Norway – Norway exports just over two million barrels annually, with the bulk of their product going to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

    According to Consumer Energy Report, while Saudi Arabia remains an important nation in this industry, other countries have gained ground in production and distribution. Canada and Mexico, for two, overtook Saudi Arabia’s position as top exporter to the United States in 2011—Canada’s yield of over two thousand barrels a day into US was twice what the Saudis shipped over.

    Challenges in the Oil Industry

    The search for viable sources for oil continues, despite industry assurance that we have plenty for us for the next several decades. The challenge in finding more, however, could lead to higher prices at the pump, which seems to occur with regularity in recent years.  Horizontal drilling, a method by which companies drill straight into oil reservoirs, has proven to give companies a better way to get to hard-to-reach material, though the method is similar to fracking for natural gas. Environmental activists do not look kindly upon this activity.

    How long will the oil last? If we believe the earlier affirmation that we have a good forty or so years left, it may be time to look into alternative methods of energy. Discovery of new oil, however, remains a global prospect that majors nations will continue to pursue.

  • Facts About the Natural Gas Industry

    Every time we turn on a washing machine or stove, or check the water heater to make sure the temperature is set, we probably don’t give thought to what powers the things that bring convenience to our lives. Many homeowners may think electricity runs the show, but for many it is natural gas that keeps the lights glowing and the fires burning.

    Quick Facts About Natural Gas and the Gas Industry

    • Refined natural gas burns cleanly, and is mined from the ground through a process called “fracking.” Here rock layers in the earth are fractured to release the gas for extraction.
    • According to the Natural Gas Caucus, natural gas accounts for powering nearly a quarter of the electricity and power vehicles in the United States. The International Energy Agency reports that natural gas represents about twenty-two percent of global energy in use.
    • Natural gas is one of the most versatile power resources in the world, and produces less emissions than other fuels.
    • Pacific Gas and Electric Company reports that of the natural gas used annually, the United States and Russia combined use roughly half.

    Top Exporters and Importers of Natural Gas

    Each year, over seven hundred billion cubic meters of this fuel are exported around the world. The World Factbook currently lists the following countries as the lead exporters:

    • Russia – Russia is home to some of the largest natural gas reserves in the world. A good percentage of their output is sent to Europe to power heat and electricity.
    • Canada – The United States is perhaps Canada’s largest customer when it comes to this resource, as nearly all of the US’s natural gas imports come from their northern neighbors.
    • Norway – Norway’s major partners in this trade include Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. Sales over the last two decades have more than doubled, according to the Norweigan Petroleum Directorate.
    • Algeria – Algeria exports almost exclusively petroleum and gas. The United States, Spain, and Canada rank among their top trade partners.
    • Qatar – The bulk of Qatar’s national revenues comes from sales of gas extracted from their reserves. Japan and Korea rank among their largest trade partners.

    The CIA World Factbook lists the United States, Germany, Japan, Italy and France among the top importers of this resource. Collectively, they take in over four hundred billion cubic meters annually.  

    Challenges in the Natural Gas Industry

    While natural gas is considered a cleaner burning fuel than most resources, environmentalists are concerning that the method of extracting this resource – fracking – may do more harm than good in the future. Researchers from Cornell University have proposed that in the next twenty years, methane released during fracking into the atmosphere could contribute to problems associated with global warming. Some have even contributed pollution and earthquakes to this activity, and protests against fracking have increased in recent months. Experts in the natural gas industry, however, have dismissed such claims that extraction is endangering the planet.

    As more states and countries approve of extraction of natural gas, one may find the percentage of use growing in the future. Natural gas not only powers homes and plants, but some makes of automobiles and vehicles operate on this fuel. As the diversity of usage grows, so does the probability of this resource becoming a highly valuable export.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Global Coal Industry – Fueling the World

    When you think of coal, likely the images of production come to mind. In the United States, one may depict the industry as supported by small towns in the Appalachian area, with coal dug and hauled by men who brave mines deep in the earth. Indeed, coal mining is not the cleanest job in the world, but the industry remains one of the most important for as long as the resources are still available.


    When converted to gas or liquid state, coal is used to produce a type of fuel for producing heat and electricity. Bituminous coal, a dark and hard substance which is more common in the US, is used to create coke for the production of steel. According to the World Coal Institute, among the global coal reserves we have enough resources to last through the next century.

    Quick Facts About the Coal Industry

    • According to the World Coal Association, coal provided nearly a third of the planet’s overall energy needs and helped produce almost half of the world’s electricity output. In 2011, over 7,600 metric tons of coal were mined and produced around the world, almost double the production two decades prior.
    • In 2011, China topped the list among the world’s top coal producers, yielding more metric tons than the United States, India, and Australia combined.
    • According to the National Mining Association, coal is one of the most inexpensive sources of power. The cost of coal power is approximately half of that of natural gas.
    • The United States alones produces an average of $20 billion worth of coal. (Source: EIA)

    Top Exporters of Coal

    The World Coal Association has reported the following numbers for 2011, noting the increase of overall production by nearly seven percent from 2010:

    • Indonesia – 309 metric tons produced in 2011. The Jakarta Globe reports that the country expects to see mining rise by more than five percent next year.
    • Australia – 284 metric tons produced in 2011.  Japan received the bulk of Australia’s output.
    • Russia – 124 metric tons produced in 2011. Prime Minister Putin is reported to have pledged to support the industry with an $8 billion grant for development.
    • United States – 97 metric tons produced in 2011. The National Mining Association reports that 136,000 people are employed directly in the industry, which is responsible for creating jobs elsewhere in the country.
    • Colombia – 75 metric tons produced in 2011. Colombia expects to see production rise by nearly twenty percent in the coming year.

    Challenges in the Coal Industry

    Two of the largest challenges the coal industry faces concern safety – namely for the environment and the people directly involved in mining and production. Since 2006, fifty-one people were killed in coal mining accidents across the United States, and for many miners who do manage to retire there is the risk of black lung disease, which is contracted after years of inhaling coal dust. The memory of the 2010 Chilean mining accident and subsequent rescue (though the mine in question was not for coal), continues to raise questions of safe working conditions for miners.

    Another challenge involves making coal a cleaner source of energy. Emissions produced from burning coal risk damage to the environment and may increase global warming effects. While new methods of extracting gas from coal have helped reduce pollution, critics of coal maintain that the resource is not a hundred percent clean.

    Add to this the fact that coal is not a renewable source of energy, meaning it does not replenish after mining, and the coal industry faces its greatest challenge in what to do when there is nothing left to mine. The EIA reports that the US alone may have enough reserves to last over 200 years – how it is used in the future, however, will determine how long we can make it last.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Leather and Hide Industry

    Where centuries ago man relied on leather as a necessity for clothing and shelter, modern times showcase leather almost as a status symbol. A home with leather upholstered furnishings and a car with leather seats may indicate wealth, while a leather jacket worn by a celebrity evokes an image of rebellion. High-quality bound books, footwear, apparel, and briefcases are just a few items one can find made with tanned animal hide, which brings in nearly $50 billion dollars annually in global trade.

    Considered a sub-industry of the cattle and livestock trade, the leather industry is perhaps one of the most versatile. Leather may be tanned and preserved using different methods, dyed a variety of colors, and used for anything from sporting goods to protective covers to fashion accessories. Tastes and styles will vary, but leather remains a premium commodity for retailers around the world.

    Quick Facts About the Leather Industry

    • According to the BLC Leather Technology Centre, the average consumer may have as many as four leather-made items on person or in use daily.
    • According to the International Council of Tanners, 65 percent of global leather production goes into footwear.
    • Of an animal’s total value, only ten percent comes from the hide used to make leather.
    • The oldest leather shoe in the world is believed to be 5,500 years old, found in Armenia.

    Top Exporters of Leather

    Hides for leather are tanned around the world, in large factories managed by economic leaders and by hand in small Moroccan villages. Among the economies considered the most productive in the industry:

    • Brazil – This South American economic leader is a large exporter of cattle and by-products, and consequently top leather exporter. The privately held company Bertin S.A. is one of the country’s largest producers.
    • Bangladesh – Bangladesh is home to Apex Tannery Ltd., an important player in the industry. Leather International reported in 2001 that the company produces and exports 2.5 million feet of leather hide monthly. Major importers include Italy and Hong Kong.
    • China – As a major exporter of footwear and apparel, China has a strong hold in the industry.
    • Vietnam – This developing economy is fast becoming an important figure in the industry. China Leather Net reported that in 2012 the country’s leather footwear exports rose over 40 percent from the previous year.

    Challenges in the Leather Industry

    Though leather products remain high in demand around the world, the industry does not operate without challenges and detractors. In South America, for example, the growing cattle industry has led to deforestation, which threatens the global eco-system. Bertin S.A. of Brazil is one company dedicated to helping find a balance and preserving the forests.

    Chemicals used to tan and preserve leather are also known to cause environmental damage. In recent years, however, some factories have turned to eco-friendly methods that recycle water used in the process and reduce waste. Chinese companies, according to Treehugger, have utilized systems that have reduced waste by 40 percent.

    Animal rights remain a concern in the industry as well. Organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals continue to appeal to clothing manufacturers to utilize animal-friendly alternatives to leather, while in India an illegal leather trade thrives in a nation where cows are sacred. Nonetheless, leather remains an irreplaceable commodity since the barter trade era and forms a billion-dollar global industry that works in tandem with automotive manufacturers, clothing designers, and markets that produce accessories for computers, fashion, and publishing needs.

  • The Mobile Phone Industry and Global Trade

    These days, it seems impossible to go anywhere without checking your mobile phone for an incoming message, scanning a QR code, or sharing a status update via social media. In restaurants, on the subway, even clandestinely in church, somebody, somewhere in the world, is bent over a phone talking or texting. As companies announce new lines of mobile and smart phones for personal and commercial consumption, one must recognize that this industry will continue to evolve, possibly to the point where mobile communication claims a large percentage of Internet and telecommunication usage. In 2011, Google released a report revealing that 69 percent of American mobile users access the Internet via their phones every day, while that percentage is much higher among the Japanese. The evolution of cloud computing may assist in an increase in these numbers in the future.

    Quick Facts About the Mobile Industry

    • The first prototype for a mobile phone was created nearly 40 years ago by Motorola. The bulky handheld device initially sold in the early 80s for close to four thousand dollars!
    • According to DataFlow, there are about 3.4 billion mobile phones in use, accounting for over a trillion dollars in revenue.
    • In the US alone, close to two billion text messages are sent monthly.
    • Text messaging is the most popular mobile activity, followed by using the phone for voice message, surfing the Internet, and using a specific application.

    Majors Brands/Exporters of Mobile Phones

    According to The Verge, over 420 million mobile units were shipped globally in the last quarter of 2011 alone. Among the top brands/exporters, the shares are divided thus:

    • Nokia (Finland) – Despite having to close or downsize factories in Romania and Finland, Nokia managed to maintain the highest percentage of the mobile market share. More than a quarter of all shipments in the final months of 2011 were Nokia brand phones, shipped from factories around the world, including India, Hungary, and China.
    • Samsung (South Korea) – Samsung gained much ground in the mobile market from the last quarter of 2010, claiming over 20 percent of the overall market. Samsung maintains factories in South Korea and China for manufacture of mobile phones and components.
    • Apple (United States) – One might suspect Apple’s huge media presence means a large share of the market. While the brand is popular, Apple phones only accounted for about nine percent of sales in the last quarter of 2011, though this represented a staggering growth of 128 percent over the previous year. Apple contracts with factories in China to produce their phones.
    • LG Electronics (Korea) – As the third largest producer of mobile phones, LG claimed under five percent of this quarter’s share. LG maintains factories throughout Asia.

    Major Consumers of Mobile Phones

    Mobile usage by country often corresponds to the country’s population. Therefore, it stands to reason that the top consumers in the mobile market rank among the highest populated nations in the world. In terms of mobile usage, the largest countries are:

    • China – Reuters reports early in 2012 that over one billion mobile subscribers exist in the country.
    • India – The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India reported in mid-2012 that well over 900 million residents subscribe to some type of wireless mobile plan.
    • United States – Over 330 million mobile users are registered in the US according to CITA, an increase of over 100 million from five years ago.
    • Brazil – One of the largest South American nations also claims a large percentage of mobile usage on the continent, with over 250 million subscribers.
    • Indonesia – Nearly the entire population of the country – a quarter of a billion people – have some kind of mobile plan.

    The Future of the Mobile Industry

    Mobile Marketing reports that mobile Internet usage is poised to overtake desktop computer usage in the next two years. As devices become more sophisticated (already we read books, watch movies, and shop for products), this seems very likely, though this doesn’t mean the mobile industry is not without challenges:

    • Outages remain a concern for mobile companies and users. Recent problems with outages have plagued RIM’s BlackBerry brand, leaving users to research other options on the market.
    • Competition among brands could benefit users searching for low subscription plans, possibly at the expense of a monopoly. HTC’s Android, for example, enjoyed strong sales due to its association with Google, but Google’s recent acquisition of Motorola may threaten their success.  And there's a rumor going on that Amazon will likely roll out its own smartphone produced by Foxconn, the same manufacturer for Apple late this year or early next year.
    • Though the mobile industry appears recession-proof, jobs are still cut in the industry. Though Nokia has one of the top selling phones, the company plans to lay off 10,000 employees around the world because their profit margin is less than that of other companies – including Apple. For Nokia to grow, they will need to improve their supply chain.

    The mobile phone opens new avenues to communication, travel, and entertainment, and stands to replace land lines in homes, and possibly more. How companies will continue to meet the demands of the market depend upon strong planning and robust supply chains that encourage profit.

    by Kathryn Lively


  • The Automotive Industry and Global Trade

    In the United States, one city is typically synonymous with the automotive industry. It’s challenging to think of an American made car without thinking of Detroit, Michigan, and in recent years the financial trouble the automobile giant has endured. Though foreign manufacturers in Japan and Korea have gained strength and drivers in the US, it doesn’t necessarily mean US automakers are done. MSNBC reported in late 2011 that the Big 3 in Detroit – Chrysler, Ford, and GM – enjoyed a nearly 30 percent increase due to a demand in sports utility vehicles and trucks.

    Quick Facts About the Automotive Industry

    • Since 2000, an average of 48 million passenger cars alone have been manufactured annually around the world.

    • According to Worldometers, China produces one of every four new cars, and more than half of all cars are produced in Asia and Oceania.

    • Of the approximated one billion passenger cars on the road around the world, close to 25 percent of them are registered in the United States. (Source: International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers)

    • According to Businessweek, the top selling car in the world is the Toyota Corolla, with sales of well over 35 million.

    Major Exporters of Automobiles

    While China is one of the world’s largest producers of passenger vehicles, the country is not necessarily ranked high among top global exporters. The International Trade Centre recently put out a report on top automotive exporters, with the following leading the pack:

    • Germany – The roots of the German automotive industry date back to the late nineteenth century and the various patents owned by Karl Benz. Where in that time the country produced barely a thousand cars a year, now over five million are manufactured. Popular German brands include Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, BMW, and Porsche.

    • Japan – Gasoline-powered vehicles have been built in Japan early as 1907. Despite natural disasters that threatened the nation’s economy, Japan has worked to maintain its place among top car producers and exporters. Toyota, one of the top selling brands of all time, is based in Japan, as are Nissan, Honda, Mazda, and Subaru.

    • The United States – The US auto industry took a hit in recent years due to the economy. Through a combination of asset liquidation and government funding, the major brands (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors) have worked to stay afloat. Despite this issues, the US remains a top producer with over seven million cars made on average in the country.

    • Republic of Korea – Over the last decade, South Korea has established itself as an automotive power thanks to an association between Daewoo Motors and GM, and Hyundai’s presence in the US with a major assembly plant.

    • Canada – While the country has no major native brand, Canada is important to the automotive industry by virtue of the many plants established by foreign brands, including Ford, Toyota, Chrysler and Honda.

    Major Importers of Automobiles

    While many countries produce domestic brands, automobile imports remain strong in economies that seek certain qualities, such as fuel efficiency and safety features. Among the top importers of automobiles:

    • The United States – Of the top brands sold in the US in the last year, many names bring to mind manufacturers from other lands: the Toyota Camry and Corolla, the Nissan Altima, and the Honda Civic and Accord.

    • Germany – While German brands dominated domestic sales in 2011, there is enough of a demand for foreign models to make Germany an important importer. Ford, Skoda (based in the Czech Republic), and Hyundai are popular names.

    • United Kingdom – Luxury is often synonymous with the British automotive industry. Aston Martin, Bentley, and Rolls Royce are three makes manufactured here, though Ford, Volkswagen, and the French Peugeot are seen more often on the roads.

    • Italy – Italy is known for the Fiat and Ferrari, but foreign makes like the Ford Fiesta, the French Citroen C3, and the Volkswagen Golf are also in demand.

    • France – The French appear greatly committed to domestic brands, particularly Renault and Peugeot, but foreign models from Ford, Volkswagen and the Romanian Dacia are gaining ground in the last year.

    The Aftermarket

    Equally important to the automotive industry is the manufacture and sale of auto parts and accessories, commonly known as the aftermarket. Sub-industries relevant to automobile sales may include products like tires and paint, stereo and GPS, engines and chemicals needed for operation, leather and vinyl for seating and safety features.  According to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), the aftermarket in the US alone totals over $250 billion.

    Though faltering economies and natural disasters have given the international automotive industry a number of challenges, one can conclude sales are destined to remain strong so long as the need for personal transportation remains. How and where people will by their cars may change over time as considerations for eco-friendly features grow in demand, but so long as people continue to buy automobiles the global industry will continue to gain speed.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • Facts About the Global Footwear Industry

    Depending on where you live, shoes are considered more than a necessity to protect your feet as you walk – they are viewed as status symbols. Young children wishing to emulate a favorite athlete will seek the brand they wear, and television shows like Sex and the City place emphasis on designers like Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo. The global footwear industry is quite profitable and as diverse as the demographics to which it markets. According to IbisWorld, footwear accounted for over $100 billion in overall trade in 2007 and is expected to increase in the next decade.

    The health of the footwear industry is also dependent on various resources: textiles, plastics, and natural and synthetic rubber. Some companies may focus on a general product like all-purpose sneakers and athletic shoes, while others provide footwear for a specific use – dance shoes, steel-toed boots for heavy labor, and infant shoes. According to Allure Magazine, the average American woman may own as many as twenty-seven pairs of shoes, so one can argue a demand for new product will always exist.

    Quick Facts About the Footwear Industry

    According to Intertek:

    • Consumers in the United States alone purchased nearly 2.5 million pairs of shoes in 2006.
    • Of the shoes purchased in the United States, nearly 99% of them were imported.
    • As global population is expected to rise five-fold in 2050 (source: World Resources Institute), consumption of footwear will double every two decades.
    • In response to the need for sustainable and eco-friendly production, many companies have started using biodegradable materials in products and packaging, as well as recycling old shoes for new purposes.

    Major Exporters of Footwear

    As one may expect, Asia is a larger exporter of footwear. Here’s how the trade breaks down by country:

    • China – Footwear comprises a significant percentage of China’s overall $1.9 trillion export income.  While the US is a large partner in export trade, China also ships large numbers of shoes to Russia.
    • Indonesia – According to the Jakarta Post, the country’s footwear manufacturing industry has greatly boosted the economy. Over the last several years, companies have relocated to Indonesia from Taiwan and South Korea, and many hold license to popular brands.
    • Vietnam – More than ten percent of the country’s overall exports are footwear, shipped to the United States, Japan, and China.

    Major Importers of Footwear

    As noted earlier, the United States imports nearly all available shoes on the market. Other top importers include:

    • China – Despite their status as a top exporter, the Chinese also import foreign-made shoes, particularly leather styles (source: Duke University).
    • Germany – With European footwear manufacturing on the decline due to the move of companies off-shore, countries like Germany depend upon imports of shoes.
    • France – Similar to Germany and other nations in the EU, France imports a good percentage of footwear for consumption.

    The Future of the Industry

    The global footwear industry faces many challenges in terms of increasing sustainability.  According to Intertek, pollution is a problem that cannot be ignored for much longer. In China alone, more than 200 million metric tons of waste water were produced in 2009 as a result of shoe manufacturing. Research into environmentally friendly resources like vegetable-tanned leathers, natural rubber, and hemp will determine the changes that need to be made to make footwear production less toxic while maintaining integrity. As global population continues to increase, so will the demand for product.

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