The worldwise shoe production rose by 8 percent to an estimated 24.3 billion pairs in 2014, according to the annual World Footwear Yearbook produced by Apiccaps, the Portuguese shoe industry association. Global exports increased at a faster rate of 16 percent, reaching 16.4 billion pairs, but they were up in value by only 13 percent to US$133 billion.

In fact, average export prices declined by 2 percent to $8.12 per pair as foreign shipments of rubber and plastic shoes grew faster than those of leather shoes, representing more than 30 percent of the total export value. Furthermore, the average price of exported leather shoes declined slightly for the first time in many years, after doubling over the past decade.

The price decline was surprising, considering especially the recent inflation in leather prices and rising wages. In the last ten years, average export prices rose by 36 percent and the total value of shoe exports increased by 144 percent in terms of dollars, about twice as fast as export volumes.

Officials of Appicaps, which presented the report at the GDS shoe show in Düsseldorf yesterday, were unable to explain the drop in the price of leather shoes. We feel that it may have been due to lower demand for expensive long leather boots. An Italian journalist guessed that higher exports from low-cost countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Ethiopia may have played a role. In any case, Apiccaps' officials remarked that the share of leather shoes in the total value of shoe exports has fallen to less than 45 percent from about 60 percent ten years ago.

China reinforced its leading position as the world's largest source of shoe production last year, commanding a share of 64.6 percent and contributing to raise Asia's share to 88 percent. China remained the largest exporter of footwear in terms of value, with a share of 40.5 percent in world trade. It held a share of 21.2 percent in leather shoes, followed by Italy with a share of 15.4 percent.

Across all the categories, Vietnam became the second-largest exporter in 2014, representing 9.2 percent of world trade and overtaking Italy with a share of 8.4 percent. Belgium, Germany, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Spain, the Netherlands, France, India and Portugal came next – in that order.

The U.S. remained the biggest importer of footwear, taking in 21.8 percent of the total export value in 2014. On a continental basis, Europe's share of total imports declined to 38 percent, whereas Asia's share moved up to 26 percent. Out of all the shoes exported from individual European countries, 31 percent went to other countries in Europe, including Russia. Intra-Asian trade accounted for 15 percent of Asian exports.

Looking at apparent footwear consumption in terms of pairs, China remained the biggest footwear market in the world with sales of 3,646 million pairs, or 18 percent of the world total. The U.S. and India came next with consumption of 2,295 million pairs and 2,048 million pairs, respectively. Brazil and the U.K. followed at a distance with a market of 807 million and 523 million pairs, respectively. Interestingly, with a declining consumption of 411 million pairs, Russia lost two positions on the World Footwear Yearbook's ranking. It came after Germany and France, both with an estimated consumption of 435 million pairs.