Goatherds hit hard by row over bananas

THEY DON'T eat bananas on the Mongolian grasslands. But as the traditional nomadic herders shelter in isolated ger tents against the long winter, a tit-for-tat American-European trade dispute over the sub- tropical fruit is threatening the subsistence livelihoods of those who provide one-third of the world's cashmere.

Few nomads know that a US-Brussels argument over banana imports will hit life on the steppes. "I hadn't heard about the trade dispute," said Sereeter, a 40-year-old goatsman from Tuv province who sells his cashmere at the raw materials market in Ulan Bator. "I think it may cause some effect, but I do not know whether it will be positive or negative."

In the next few weeks, as the goats start moulting their winter growth, the herders will begin cutting the raw "greasy" cashmere that is destined to end up as luxury-priced sweaters and scarves on the other side of the world. But it is not clear who will be buying their wool. While attention has so far focused on the Scottish cashmere industry, the impoverished Mongolian nomads also look like being innocent victims of the "banana wars" because of a World Trade Organisation ruling this week that gave Washington the right to impose punitive 100 per cent import tariffs on $191m (pounds 116m) of European imports. On the threatened list of goods are cashmere products, many manufactured with Mongolian wool.

"The impact on the Mongolian herder unfortunately will be most extreme," said Ronnie Lamb in Ulan Bator, the executive director of Mongol Amicale, a US-Mongolian joint venture that last year processed 300 tons of cashmere, a large proportion for export to Italian companies, which re-exported finished fashion goods to the US. "Most of the Mongolian herdsmen here live below a sustainable level. They come out of a long, cold, hard winter and they have no savings, they have no contingencies, no reserves, they need to eat, they need to survive, and send their children to school and to clothe themselves." Mr Lamb, a Scotsman, splits his time between Mongolia and his company's Bradford firm, which sells on cashmere to end-users.

Mongol Amicale buys its cashmere direct from the herders, but Mr Lamb said the company might hold off on some spring purchases until the outcome of the trade dispute was clearer. "We've no idea that contracts we have in hand are actually going to be honoured."

It is a potentially disastrous situation for nomadic herders in one of the most isolated and extreme geographical regions on earth, where winter temperatures fall to minus 40C. And it is a "double whammy", said Mr Lamb, for the industry. Last year, the world cashmere price collapsed, with herdsmen receiving just $9 a kilogram - half the level of 1994-95 - because sales of cashmere clothes plummeted in Japan and South-east Asia, hard hit by the area's economic crisis. With the "banana wars", Mongolian cashmere sales to clothing manufacturers in Scotland and Italy are also in danger of evaporating, because the punitive tariffs will make European-made sweaters and scarves unsellable across the Altantic.

"It's a disaster for Mongolia," said John Napoleoni, the chief financial officer for Forte Cashmere, a US firm that processes raw cashmere in Ulan Bator. Cashmere is the country's second biggest foreign exchange earner, and Mongolia can ill-afford another economic shock. The country, for seven decades a Soviet satellite state, was left reeling in the early Nineties when Moscow's subsidies disappeared overnight.

Sereeter, who like most Mongolians uses one name, added: "Herdsmen with many animals live quite wealthily, selling meat, skins and cashmere. But the life of herdsmen with fewer numbers of livestock is not that good ... Animal husbandry is a risky business; harsh weather can kill your animals, or you have to slaughter them to get cash and food and clothing."

The ultra-soft cashmere fibres are a precious commodity in the West, but most herders have little notion of the price of the finished products. With each animal yielding just 200g to 380g of cashmere a year, Mongolia's 11 million goats will this year produce around 2,500 tons of the raw wool. About 90 per cent of Mongolia's cashmere wool is exported.

At worst, the "banana wars" may play into the hands of aggressive Chinese traders and smugglers, who tend to outwit the herders on price. "The Chinese may be loading their wagons anticipating a great windfall because the European manufacturers are out of the ballpark," said Mr Napoleoni.

Additional reporting from Enkhamgalan in Ulan Bator.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Geography Teacher

£100 - £160 per day + mileage and expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: This out...

KS2 supply teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting fo...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album