A warning that the Italian and remaining leathergoods industries in Europe could collapse before being in a position to take advantage of exporting to a growing market in China has come from ANCI chairman Rossano Soldini.

Speaking out on the occasion of a record breaking Micam, the Milan shoe fair, Soldini said with trade quotas on China about to be lifted on January 1, 2005, a ‘flood of products is being stockpiled in warehouses outside the EU, ready to come in.’

He said the Italian footwear industry was the first to value free international trade but could not protect itself against ‘currency, social and environmental dumping’ from Asian countries. He said it was never the intention of international trade liberalisation to destroy vital and essential industries in Europe.

‘But the battle we’ve been fighting has brought to light strong and contrasting interests within the EU’, he added. Regulations designed to deal with unfair competition and protect successful European industries were ‘complex and unworkable’.

Primarily affected were leather-uppered shoes with rubber or leather soles. Preliminary figures for the first five months of 2004 showed that Chinese footwear imports in all categories were already growing at a rate of 42% year on year by volume, while the European footwear market is described as ‘virtually stagnant’. For the first time ever, pairs imported (158 million) exceeded exports (137 million). Exports peaked in 1996 at 204 million pairs.

Taking the leather sector as a whole for the first six months of 2004, order books are dwindling and redundancy payments on the ordinary state scheme are up 21% while there is an ‘explosion’ in the extraordinary state scheme of 107%.

Translating the statistics, again for the entire leather sector (tanneries, footwear and leathergoods and components), there was a reduction of 542 active companies in the sector.

In an effort to bolster Italian producers, ANCI (The National Association of Footwear Manufacturers) has launched an ‘I love Italian shoes’ campaign. However, as Soldini points out, the lack of compulsory origin marking on products and a growing counterfeiting industry could see this attempt backfire on the footwear industry.