The country’s leather industry could lose up to 70% of its workforce if the dumping of south east Asian shoes and the falsification of invoices for imported leathergoods continues, industrialists have warned.

Speaking at a press conference in Beirut, representatives of tanneries and shoe factories sounded the alarm over their disappearing trade, which is beset by cheap imports and high production costs.

‘During the war, we had over 1,000 shoe factories’, said George Darwish, head of the committee overseeing the affairs of more than 10,000 tanners and shoemakers in Lebanon. ‘We are down now to 320.’

Darwish and other industrialists brandished invoices obtained from Lebanese customs, quoting different prices for the same brand of imported shoes.

‘The government is losing millions of Lebanese pounds each year from customs due to the falsification of the value of imported goods such as shoes’, said Fawzi Abou Moujahed, a representative for tanners and shoemakers. ‘This values a pair of shoes at 60 cents. Is this a realistic figure?’

Jacques Sarraf, president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, questioned the prices of such cheap imports. ‘These prices defy logic and I dare anyone to show me a pair of shoes bought here for $1.5 or $2, as is spelled out in these invoices’, he said. ‘It is unreasonable for a country with a population of 4 million to import 17 million pairs of shoes, as it did last year.’

Industrialists have protested the import of goods from south east Asia at low prices that have driven a number of shoe factories, such as Bata, to close down and rely on imports only.

Bata, one of Lebanon’s largest shoe chains, axed more than 260 employees last year alone due to the recession in the country.

This year, shoe factories and tanneries are facing the extra burden of competing with imported leathergoods that are 10% cheaper due to the government’s cut in tariffs on imported clothes items from 35-25% in December last year.

‘We do not mind the cuts in customs duties as long as the government protects us from dumping practices’, said Abou Moujahed.