Italian shoe manufacturers hope that their orders will finally stop falling in the 2nd half of this year, as the rate of decline has been slowing down lately, but some of the weaker ones will probably have to close down before then, says Rossano Soldini, chairman of their association, ANCI, even if the European Union grants his long-standing request for mandatory labels of origin on imported shoes.

The latest surveys conducted by ANCI among its members indicate that their production probably declined by just over 7 percent in 2003, leading to a decrease in their revenues of about 5 percent. By the end of December, the rate of utilization of their manufacturing capacities was on average lower than 80 percent and the industry’s total workforce was 3.5 percent below the year-earlier level.

All 4 major countries of destination for Italian shoe exports recorded lower deliveries last year. Based on the trade figures available for the first 11 months of last year, the rates of decline in volume were 2.8 percent for Germany, 2.6 percent for France, 13.4 percent for the USA and 11.9 percent for Britain. They were only partly compensated by increases of 10.2 percent in Spain, 2.8 percent in Austria, 6.6 percent in Sweden and 3.0 percent in Russia. Exports to Japan were practically stable and they have recently shown encouraging signs of a likely turnaround.

While orders from Japan showed a 3.3 percent increase in the last quarter of 2003, orders were down by 8.8 percent from Germany, by 4.2 from the other European countries and by 7 percent from the USA. Domestic orders were practically flat in spite of the growing import pressure and a 1 percent decline in Italian footwear consumption in the first 10 months of last year, with a stronger downward trend for children’s and men’s footwear.

Total exports fell by 7 percent in volume and by 6.2 percent in value during the first 11 months of 2003, reaching 282 million pairs worth €5,988 million. The trade balance remained largely positive, but Italy’s shoe imports grew by 18.9 percent in volume and by 7.6 percent in value, showing a 9.5 percent drop in their average price to €9.07, or half the average price of Italy’s exports, which grew by only 0.8 percent to €21.24.

Imports from China jumped by 48.3 percent to 92 million. Imports from other European countries dropped by 4.6 percent in volume but rose slightly in value. One odd element was a 67 percent gain in imports from Holland, which evidently re-exported Far Eastern shoes. The growth in imports from more traditional sources of production such as Romania or Bulgaria slowed down. Interestingly, the rate of partial outsourcing from abroad declared at Italian customs declined by 10.8 percent to 8.8 million pairs in the 1st half of 2003, possibly because of a more generalized trend toward total outsourcing, with much of the foreign production going directly to the Italian companies' clients around the world.