While Spanish footwear manufacturers have announced that their export markets began to turn around last September, their Italian counterparts have no such good news to report. With orders off by 6.8 percent year-on-year, the leather and footwear sector is one of the hardest hit in Italy, with the exception of the textile and clothing sector, down 8.4 percent, and machinery and equipment, off by 8.2 percent.

According to a survey carried out by ANCI, the Italian association of footwear manufacturers, in the first 9 months of 2003 Italian shoe production fell by 6.4 percent in volume and 4.4 percent in value compared with the same period in 2002. A full 82 percent of the companies questioned reported a fall in production year on year, while only 9 percent claimed a positive trend. On the price front there was a contrast between the domestic market, which posted an average increase of 2.3 percent, and export prices, which fell by 2 percent. It's a clear sign that many companies preferred to ensure against losing market share in certain areas by squeezing their prices. Many producers seem to have left their dollar prices unchanged for the American market, in spite of the stronger euro.

The import-export figures compiled from ANCI so far cover only the first 8 months of 2003, to the end of August, but are no more encouraging. Italian footwear exports lost 7.5 percent in volume, down to 214 million pairs, and 8.3 percent in value, dropping to €4,266.6 milion, with average price per pair down by 0.87 percent to €19.92. Exports of leather footwear fell by 8.5 percent in volume to 137 million pairs and synthetic footwear deliveries dropped by 8.8 percent to 34 million pairs. On the other hand, rubber footwear deliveries grew by 36.4 percent to 3.7 million pairs.

Deliveries to all the major European countries were down. Germany lost 4.9 percent at 44.7 million pairs, France fell by 4.4 percent to 21.2 million pairs, the USA lost 5.6 percent, with 27.2 million pairs, and the UK dropped by 10 percent to 20.5 million pairs. Of Italy’s top 10 export markets, only Austria and Spain showed a positive trend, with volume up by 1.6 percent and 6.1 percent respectively. The Russian market showed partially positive signs, with a 1.2 percent rise in volume to 3.3 million pairs and a 6.4 percent drop in value to €152 million. Japan took 0.2 percent more in volume, with 2.9 million pairs, but their value fell by 7 percent to €150 million.

Another crucial factor is the continuing rise in imports, up by 19.8 percent in volume to almost 198 million pairs, and by 9.5 percent in value, to €1,750 million. The average price of imported footwear dropped by 8.5 percent to €8.85.ANCI notes that Italy’s total footwear imports from the Far East grew by 34.5 percent in volume and 14 percent in value. Imports from China represented the most prominent increase, up by 19.15 percent in value to €198 million but by 47.2 percent in volume to 74 million pairs.

The average price of imports from China fell by 19 percent to €2.68, the exact opposite of the trend for other non-Asian countries - for example average prices of Romanian imports grew by 1.5 percent to €12.5 while the Tunisian average rose by 10.6 percent to €11. Overall, the average price of footwear imported into Italy stood at €8.85 per pair. The only other country whose prices came close to China’s was Thailand.

In the face of these figures, Rossano Soldini, chairman of ANCI, has asked Brussels to implemente the safeguard measures foreseen for similar cases in the protocol for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US government has already taken advantage of the same protection clause against imports of certain textile and iron and steel imports from China. Soldini maintains that China is guilty of economic, monetary, social, and environmental dumping. He makes the same claim on the creative front, charging that China is guilty of counterfeiting Italian brands and products in huge quantities.