When passing the testimony over to Giovanni Gaia during the Assomac general assembly held at the end of June, Giuseppe Barrera, the retiring president, defined the year 2003 as being an annus horribilus for the western hide/footwear/leathergoods industry. Unfortunately, he was right, and the same went for the technology sector.

During the first eight months, export business dropped off to the following extents: shoe-making machinery -17.26%; leathergoods machinery -22.69%; tanning machinery -14.03%; and spare parts -20.22%.

And the remaining months of 2003 certainly didn’t improve the situation.

Right after the summer holidays, President Gaia arranged a series of meetings among associated companies with the purpose of achieving the three following objectives:

* The definition of future scenarios;

* The identification of pursuable objectives;

* The identification of what levers to use to aid companies regain their competitiveness.

Another meeting was held at the Assomac headquarters on Thursday December 11, with practically the whole shoe and leathergoods machinery sector being represented. At this meeting, after all the speakers had made their reports, a very lively and friendly discussion took place that brought out some important ideas for a programme of activities in the 2004-2005 biennium.

Around 80% of the footwear sold in the world is manufactured in Asia, and almost 60% is made in China. Obviously, the Chinese reality has to be taken into due account. However, the rest of the world is still important because it represents the historical past and it is an important market that must be duly supported so as to avoid jeopardising the universally-acknowledged leadership position as regards technology and quality.

With regards to China, it appeared evident that:

* Assomac’s presence in China needs to be strengthened in relation to the acquisition of data and the understanding of the Chinese market, the norms and the laws.

* It would be unthinkable to address the Chinese market by just attempting to sell a few individual machines.

* China can and must be addressed with a specific strategy that takes all the market’s complicated variables into account.

In order to have the necessary competitiveness, a company has to be large enough, and this can be obtained in various ways. The most practical way seems to be the setting up of an interconnected system. Assomac’s job will be to investigate the feasibility of these initiatives.

As regards the other markets, it was revealed that:

* In 2004, Assomac’s initiatives – participation in trade fairs, the invitation of delegations, company check-ups and other institutional presence – will involve all of 22 countries.

* A high-level political action, going from Intermeccanica to Confindustria, should provide Assomac with the support of the national and international institutions.