CHINA - Down production has declined sharply in China as a consequence of the H7N9 bird flu outbreak and the cost of down products is likely to soar in winter.
According to the Jiangsu Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, the province's down-product exports have dropped significantly since April.
In Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, where most Chinese down products are made, about two-thirds of the businesses that work with down have stopped using it. The culling of poultry and closure of poultry markets to halt the spread of the virus have made down hard to come by.
"Even if the bird flu can be brought under control in May, it is certain that the output of down will drop by at least one-third in 2013," said Zhou Jingjie, an engineer at the bureau's down testing laboratory. "And the soaring price of down is another problem businesses face."
At the 113th Canton Fair, in Guangzhou from April 15 to May 5, the price of down was 50 to 100 per cent higher than last year.
According to the China Feather and Down Industrial Association, 90 per cent white duck down, which sold for about 350,000 yuan (S$70,000) per metric ton in March, cost 550,000 yuan per ton by the end of April.
White goose down, according to the China National Garment Association, now costs 820,000 yuan per ton. And goose down is in short supply, even if the manufacturers are willing to pay cash for it.
About 50 per cent of the down used in China is imported, and its cost has also gone up, the garment association said.
Ying Xiaoyue, the manager of the publicity department of Bosideng International Holdings, a leading Chinese down coat manufacturer, said the company in Jiangsu needs 300 tons of down to make 3.7 million coats for orders from overseas markets.
"Though we've managed to buy enough down for now, in April we could only purchase 140 tons," Ying said.
Zhou said: "Many Chinese businesses have no choice but to cancel or turn down orders because they have no material to work with. Some businesses that got orders before the price went up may not be able to fulfil their obligations and will face compensation claims."
Some foreign retailers are requiring safety certificates issued by customs with some exported down and feather products, such as shuttlecocks and quilts.
According to the China National Garment Association, down is washed and steamed at 120 C for 30 minutes before it is used, and the bird flu virus dies within two minutes when exposed to 70 C.
The safety of down garments and products made by regular manufacturers is guaranteed, the association said.
Zhou suggested that manufacturers should import more down to ease the pressure and reduce the reliance on domestic markets, as the tax rate on imported feathers and down has dropped in China from 10 per cent to 5 per cent since January.
The China Feather and Down Industrial Association called for understanding between retailers and the manufacturers and hoped that retailers could cut some orders or increase the price of down products.
"It is the most difficult time for down products manufacturers, who do not want to breach the contracts, yet are incapable of bearing the loss caused by the price increase," the association said on its official website.
It said the impact of the H7N9 virus will decline as the seasonal temperature rises because the bird flu virus prefers cold weather, and that the supply chain of down products will be gradually normalized.