Francisco Dos Santos and his staff at Couromoda did an excellent job as organizers of the fourth World Footwear Congress, which was held outside Europe for the first time in Rio de Janeiro on Nov. 7-8. A total of 479 delegates from 29 countries attended the event, which provided a comprehensive overview of the current situation in the world footwear market and useful insights into its future development, especially in the fastest-growing emerging markets.

Attendance was higher than expected, especially on the domestic front, with a total of 282 participants from Brazil. Another 197 delegates came from other countries, with many of them braving long distances to reach the beautiful venue across from the beach of Copacabana. The second-largest contingent came from Italy, with a total of 61 delegates, thanks in large part to the sponsorship of Anci, the Italian shoe industry association, through its Micam shoe show. In addition to Couromoda and Micam, the Francal, GDS and Expo Riva Schuh shoe fairs acted as co-sponsors of the event.

An impressive roster of speakers set a milestone in the history of the World Footwear Congress. The first convention was launched in Brussels eight years ago by Roeland Smets, who is now retiring as general manager of the European Shoe Industry Federation (CEC). It took six years of negotiations for Dos Santos and his wife, Waleska, to take the convention to Brazil.

The most prominent speaker at the convention was no doubt Thomas G. Bata, chairman of the Bata Group, who doesn't make many public appearances. Other interesting presentations were made by consultants such as Steve Lee and Peter Mangione, and by officials of shoe industry associations from China, Vietnam, Brazil, India, Italy, Spain and Portugal. We shall report on the highlights of their speeches and those of others in the next issues of Shoe Intelligence.

World Footwear Congress - Rio 2011

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The convention gave the delegates numerous opportunities for networking, and exchanging ideas and business cards. The accompanying entertainment program culminated in a dinner with a memorable classical music concert, conducted by a famous former Brazilian pianist whose hands have been partly crippled, featuring two very talented young Brazilian virtuosos.

Some of the participants in the World Footwear Congress stayed on to attend the first World Leather Congress at the same location. A total of 350 delegates attended the equally successful event in Rio, including representatives of all the major countries that produce or process hides and skins, wetblue, and finished leather. The speeches made by important personalities from the footwear sector such as Stefano Ferragamo, Diego Rossetti and Raymond Massaro drew strong cheers from the audience. The success of the event led the organizers to launch the idea of extending the program of the next World Leather Congress for one extra day.

At both the footwear and leather conventions, many speakers used the opportunity to propose and discuss the liberalization of the markets. Cleto Sagripanti, the young Italian entrepreneur recently elected president of the Italian shoe industry association, Anci, said he has the dream of “a world without duties or other barriers, and I want it to happen during my lifetime.”

Because of Brazil's export taxes on wetblue leather and its high normal and anti-dumping duties on shoe imports, representatives of the host country were caught in a somewhat awkward situation, but they managed to express their position well. They generally indicated that they were in favor of a bilateral trade agreement between Mercosur, the South American community of nations, and the European Union. They accused the Argentine and French governments of blocking the liberalization process.