You Got That WHERE?

Consider the origins of stone-care products at your local industry supplier – or the nearest Big Box home-furnishing stone – and you’ll get a quick tour of the worldwide stone industry. Mixed in with U.S. manufacturers are destinations as close as Canada and Mexico to more-exotic locations such as Turkey and China.

And, if there’s an incredibly enterprising importer out there, you can add one more country to the list: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) … or, as you’re going to likely know it, North Korea.

The country’s official news agency reported in June that scientists developed a stone cleaner/enhancer made from “natural materials;” the solution won’t harm the stone, and residue is non-polluting.) The agency also noted that, for those looking to dress up some concrete, there’s a new paint that provides the look of natural stone in five colors.)

Negotiating a business deal isn’t going to be an easy job, considering that exports from the DPRK come by fits and starts; on occasion, it doesn’t export directly to U.S. customers for a year at a time. (Don’t expect the DPRK’s official Website to offer a lot of help for starting up trade, although there is an official chamber of commerce.

However, as of last October, the country is off the “state supporters of terrorism” list, by order of former President George W. Bush. It’s OK to do business in Pyongyang, although you might be wary if anyone starts talking about payments through Office 39.

It’s unlikely that “Made in the DPRK” would appear on any of this stuff, as it might make a stone rejuvenator a bit of a tough sell at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Finding a different way to market by packaging the stuff somewhere else – Hong Kong, maybe – might do the trick. After all, it’s worked for the literally countless tons of stone with some genuinely strange import tags.

In the first six months of this year, for example, there’s been a regular flow of worked granite from the Dominican Republic. Admittedly, there are granite deposits in the country – the last mention I could find came from 1907 – but it’s a tougher sell to see major granite quarrying in Panama, Singapore or the United Arab Emirates, which all sent granite to U.S. ports-of-entry this year.

This is due to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule that determines the export “origin” by how much a product is worked, and it’s easy to believe that stone factories are running in Singapore or Dubai. (It’s a stretch to see major boulder-to-slab operations in the Cayman Islands, which sends along a few tons of granite every now and then.)

Then there’s the interesting case of Lebanon and the stone export category of other calcareous, which basically includes any calcareous stone that isn’t classified as marble or travertine. For years, the country sent, on average, less than 100 metric tons a month of other calcareous to the United States – until December 2006.

In October of that year, Lebanon exported 21 metric tons of the ol’ o.c. here. Two months later, it exported 28,224 metric tons to the United States. Since then, Lebanon has been the biggest volume exporter of other calcareous to us, often providing more than half the total shipments of the stone (although at a drastically reduced value when compare to other Mediterranean countries). It’s a great story, except that there are no strong clues as how it’s happened.

Most customers don’t particularly care where someone cuts stone from the ground; they want a nice-looking slab or tile. With more interest in the point of origin – on political or health issues – we may be in for some interesting IDs on products in the future, however.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.

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