Footwear exports from Portugal grew by 4 percent in the first half of this year to €789 million. Apiccaps, the national shoe manufacturers association, points out that this should be the third year in which the sector has shown an increase, building up to growth of 20 percent from the level reach in 2010 in spite of the generally weak economic environment.

Sales outside the European Union went up by 37 percent during the six-month period. In particular, they grew by 93 percent to €16 million in Russia, by 113 percent to €13 million in Angola, by 23 percent to €10 million in the U.S., by 25 percent to €7 million in Canada and by 118 percent to €4 million in Australia. Portuguese shoemakers also scored increases of 280 percent to €2.5 million in the United Arab Emirates and 73 percent to €1.5 million in China.

A more modest 0.7 percent increase to €698 million was recorded in the European Union outside Portugal. While exports to Spain and Denmark fell by 4 and 26 percent, respectively, they grew by 0.7 percent to €195 million in France, by 2.4 percent to €153 million in Germany, by 13 percent to €107 million in the Netherlands and by 2.3 percent to €54 million in the U.K.

With the Portuguese economy still navigating in negative territory, shoe imports into Portugal fell by 9.3 percent to €200 million in the first half of this year.

Portugal's exports of footwear components and leathergoods increased, too, during the period. They went up by 11 percent to €25 million and by 29 percent to €49.5 million, respectively.

For the Portuguese shoe industry, the outlook is positive, according to Apiccaps' quarterly survey of the sector. It indicates that a large majority of the companies expect to improve their situation, with many of them planning to hire new people. Nine new factories are in the pipeline for a start-up in inland Portugal.

Among other initiatives on the export front, including the industry's presence at numerous trade shows, Apiccaps has decided to invest €3 million over the next two years to help double sales in the U.S. and to enter the Colombian market as a stepping board for market entry in Chile, Peru and Panama. The association has hired consultants on the spot. It has also requested financial aid from the Portuguese government to sponsor Shakira, the famous Colombian-born singer, for promotion in the media. The program is part of a strategic plan for the internationalization of the sector over the next six years, due to be officially submitted to the authorities in November.