For the last three years, the Brazilian shoe industry has been pulled primarily by growing domestic consumption levels, while its export sales have been dampened by foreign competition and the high value of the Brazilina real. The latest figures from Brazil seem to indicate a reversal of this trend, due to the softening Brazilian economy and the recent devaluation of the real.

At the Couromoda show held in São Paulo a few days ago, Brazilian shoe retailers estimate that Brazilian consumers spent last year around 40 billion reais (€12.3bn-$16.7bn) on footwear, but a relatively poor Christmas selling season pushed the growth for the year down to around 8 percent in value and less than 2 percent in volume. Driven by the growing spending power of the middle class, the best performances were in the areas of medium-priced women's sheos and athletic footwear.

Still, Brazilian brands could hardly benefit from the growth in the sports shoe market, which is accelerating in view of the football World Cup due to start in Brazil next June. In spite of high import duties, higher imports of sports shoes were the main factor behind increases in total shoe imports of 12.5 percent in dollars and 9.8 percent in volume last year, for a total of 39 million pairs worth $572.4 million.

Abicalçados, the Brazilian shoe industry association, estimates that its members raised their production level by 6.6 percent in volume in 2013, with leather shoes more or less flat and synthetic and rubber shoes growing. In 2012, the production had gone up by 5.5 percent, but while injected shoes rose by 11 percent, leather shoes went down by 0.1 percent.

The trend toward lower selling prices was reflected in the preliminary export statistics for last year, which show increases in Brazil's shoe exports of 8.5 percent in volume to 122.9 million pairs and 0.2 percent in dollars to $1,095 million, representing a turnaround from the previous declining pattern. Exports would have been down for the year in terms of value without an increase of 10.3 percent year-on-year in December.

Heitor Klein, president of Abicalçados, predicts that exports will continue to rise in the next years, and that they may even go back to a previous annual level of $2 billion, thanks to a widening selection of distinctive shoe designs and a diversification in target export markets.

Another factor is the value of the Brazilian real which, according to a survey conducted at the beginning of last year, had decreased to an adequate level to trigger foreign orders for Brazilian shoes. A third factor is a series of government incentives granted to export-oriented Brazilian shoe manufacturers, which have been confirmed for 2014, with a few amendments.

Aside from this, Abicalçados is asking again for protection from the growing import flow, charging that some of the volumes are entering the country fraudolently, circumventing the anti-dumping duties imposed in imports from China in 2010.

Abicalçados is also complaining about a new blockade by the Argentinian government. In the last quarter of 2013, customs authorities held up some 700,000 pairs of Brazilian shoes worth US$20 million, preventing their sale in the market. Two Brazilian ministers went to Buenos Aires to resolve the issue, but the result was too little too late. Argentina's import licensing system has caused major problems for Brazilian exporters since 2011.