According to data supplied by ASSOMAC, the Italian association of machinery and component manufacturers for the footwear, leathergoods and tanning industries, in the first 8 months of 2003 Italian exports of shoe manufacturing machinery fell by 17.26 percent to €99.18 million. Sales to Africa and America dropped by 54.35 percent and 40.82 percent respectively, while Europe lost 10.8 percent.

The same trend occurred in tanning machinery, with total exports down by 14.03 percent to €67.35 million. The most significant losses were in Europe, down 38.48 percent, and Africa, down 21.49 percent. Sales to America showed a slight upturn of 6 percent. Drastic losses were also posted for exports of spare parts and leathergoods machinery, down by 20.22 percent and 22.69 percent respectively.

The association’s newly-elected chairman, Giovanni Gaia, has started a series of discussions to sound out industry players in an attempt to determine the most effective strategies to cope with the difficulties. The problem of China is clearly a major factor in most people’s minds. A full 80 percent of the footwear consumed worldwide is produced in Asia, and almost 60 percent of this volume - 6 billion pairs - in China alone. Yet in the first 8 months of 2003 Italy’s exports of footwear machinery to Asia fell by 3 percent to €21.53 million, while exports of tanning machinery grew by 10 percent to €4.04 million.

It's clear from the first round of talks that ASSOMAC needs a far stronger presence in China, to acquire the relevant data and an ongoing knowledge of the Chinese market, with its norms and legislation - for example, the concept of copyright protection is still in its infancy in China. During 2004 ASSOMAC will have its own staff in the Beijing office of ICE, the Italian institute for foreign trade, to provide legal and strategic aid to companies wishing to penetrate the Chinese market or develop their presence there. ASSOMAC will also review its presence at the Chinese trade fairs.