The 27 member countries of the European Union imported 12 percent less footwear in the first quarter of 2012 than in the corresponding period of last year, reflecting more cautious purchases by distributors and retailers last year in view of the economic situation in the region. The drop in value was limited to 0.4 percent, however, indicating a further major increase in average prices.

The preliminary import data, compiled by Eurostat, show a total import volume of 992 million pairs worth €9,364 million for the quarter, including inter-regional exchanges. China remained by far the biggest source, but with an above-average drop in volume of 14.3 percent to 527 million pairs. Imports from Italy fell at an even faster rate of 19.9 percent to 37 million pairs, with a drop in value of 5 percent to €1,009 million. This worrisome trend led the president of Anci, Cleto Sagripanti, to call on the Italian government for urgent measures in favor of the industry (see the following article).

Interestingly, all the major markets imported fewer shoes in the first quarter. Even Germany, where the economy has been performing better than in some other countries, reduced its shoe imports by 8.3 percent to 166 million pairs, although their total value increased by 4.7 percent to €1,038 million. In terms of volume, Germany imported 8 percent less from China, 5.5 percent less from Vietnam and 20.7 percent less from Italy, but average prices went up. In terms of value, the country's imports increased by 1 percent from China, by 10.2 percent from Vietnam and by 5.5 percent from Italy. Vietnam consolidated its position as the second-largest supplier of the German market after China in terms of volume and the third-largest after Italy in terms of value.

Shoe imports into France declined by 14.5 percent in volume and by 1.3 percent in value. In the U.K., they dropped by 3.4 percent in volume but went up by 3.4 percent in value. The quantities imported from China fell by 14.5 percent in France and by 5.3 percent in the U.K. The number of pairs imported from Italy fell by 13.6 percent in France, but grew by 5.3 percent in the U.K., which also imported 7.1 percent more shoes from the Netherlands.

The Dutch trading companies have been apparently just as cautious as other types of buyers, judging from the fact that total footwear imports into the Netherlands declined by 15.6 percent to 64 million pairs in the first three months of this year. Imports from China fell by 16.3 percent to 37 million pairs.