ANCI, the Italian shoe industry association, is considering physical demonstrations by its members in Brussels if no action is taken within the next couple of months against the a flood of shoe imports from China. Antonio Brotini, outgoing chairman of the Confederation of the European Footwear Industry (CEC), and Rafael Calvo, who is going to replace him in this role shortly, both called for short-term measures to stem the flow at the 2nd World Footwear Forum in Brussels last week, while inviting Chinese representatives at the conference to cooperate with the European industry in the medium and longer term to establish a new global trade pattern.

The larger textiles and apparel industry is getting a stronger hearing in Brussels and Beijing, with the Chinese government proposing some export self-limitation measures and European authorities considering the launch of the first anti-dumping action in this sector next Monday. But Italian shoe manufacturers are strongly voicing their fear that many of them may be completely wiped out from the map if some sort of action is not taken soon through the revaluation of the yuan/renmimbi, anti-dumping proceedings or the application of the safeguard clause.

Chinese representatives at the meeting, which is being organized by CEC every other year, asked for more time to evaluate the effects of the removal last Jan. 1 of European quotas on their footwear exports. They said they wanted to encourage the Chinese footwear industry to improve quality levels and to develop its own brands. In response to Brotini’s remark that European companies were able to export only about 750,000 pairs to China last year, they suggested that European exporters could not expect immediate results from their efforts to penetrate the Chinese market, which is developing and opening up gradually.

They claimed that China has no non-tariff barriers on footwear imports except for a requirement to use the Chinese language in all kinds of import documents. They also detailed some of the environmental requirements being imposed on Chinese tanneries.

The participants in the Brussels convention, which came from all the major countries that produce footwear except for India, called for lower import duties and greater market access for footwear worldwide, but representatives of Brazilian shoemakers refused to go along with this suggestion, indicating that it would kill their industry. The CEC is in fact working on an “action plan” on market access which is expected to be finalized by June, to give arguments to the European Commission for the Doha round of multi-lateral trade negotiations.

The CEC and the European Commission want a “level playing field” in the medium and long term for all non-agricultural products, including footwear, with the elimination of all tariff and non-tariff barriers. Last Apr. 4, CEC and four other associations representing the European leather, textiles, clothing, home textiles and sporting goods industries in Brussels were invited to present a common position on market access, proposing a list of certain countries to focus on for trade liberalization. For it part, the European Commission has commissioned a research project to track down all kinds of non-tariff barriers.

The most recent statistics indicate that the global level of imports into the EU is not growing, but those coming in from China are taking market share away from Vietnam, Brazil and five other countries through very low prices, causing a lot of potential disruption in the market. Figures for the 1st quarter should be available shortly, but the Eurostat statistics for January show a 153 percent jump to 14.6 million pairs in the EU’s total imports of leather shoes from China, excluding slippers and sports shoes, representing already 26 percent of all the footwear imported from that country throughout 2004 under these categories.

In 2004, the EU’s imports of shoes from China grew by 40 percent in value and 49 percent in volume, according to European data. Chinese industry data show that 800 million pairs worth $2.2 billion were exported to that country in 2004. China’s total footwear exports reached 5.9 billion pairs worth $15.2 billion. On the other hand, imports into China grew by 8 percent in volume and 27 percent in value, to a level of 48 million pairs worth $475 million.

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Light Industries and Artcrafts (CCCLA) is organizing training sessions to stimulate more managerial and technical expertise in the footwear sector. It’s compiling a technical guide to export to the USA and to Europe, and a yearbook of the Chinese shoe industry. The general goal is to further raise quality levels in the Chinese industry and to stimulate the development by the companies of their own brands.