Exports of Italian eyewear for the first half of the year, including lenses, show a clear upturn, with growth amounting to 13.7 percent in value for the period. But an additional 7.6 percent would be required to make up for what was lost in 2009 and get back to 2008 levels in terms of value.

The Italian eyewear industry association, Anfao, is expressing cautious optimism, backed up by statistics from the Cadore region, where the number of companies with orders already booked for the medium term is increasing, and the major players are beginning to boost their workforce.

The upturn didn't actually set in until the latter part of the six-month period. In January, exports were still 3 percentage points down on the bad performance of the previous January. By February the situation began to improve and March brought growth of 17.3 percent year on year, led by the sunglass market.

Sun eyewear continued to drive the overall performance of the Italian industry, with results around double those of prescription frames for the six-month period. While exports of frames grew by 7.4 percent, sunglass exports rose by 16.6 percent.

Europe ? which takes over half of Italian eyewear exports ? grew by 7.4 percent, the Americas by 22.3 percent, and Asia by 25 percent. Exports of sunglasses to the U.S. grew by a massive 32 percent, and prescription and sunglasses combined grew by 44 percent on the South Korean market. Russia performed well, with growth of 9.5 percent, after a big loss of 50 percent in 2009.

Overall, the major efforts made by the Italian eyewear producers in emerging markets have been rewarded. In the January-March period, exports to Central and South America grew by €2.5 million, and deliveries to China increased by €10 million. China now accounts for some 10 percent of Italy's total eyewear exports. Significant strides were made in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

France, the Italian eyewear industry's second largest market after the U.S., taking 15 percent of total exports, was the only major market that continued to put up a good performance during the 2009 slump. Still, Italian eyewear exports to that country continued to rise, by some 14 percent.

With regard to imports, the available statistics for the January-March period show that Italy's imports of prescription frames continued to rise by 12.6 percent, while sunglasses dropped by 18.9 percent, resulting in a drop of only 2.3 percentage points in imports for the overall eyewear sector during the quarter.

For the full six-month period ended in June, Italian eyewear imports from Asia dropped by 8.4 percent. While imports of frames continued to rise by 6.5 percent, sunglass imports fell by a massive 31.6 percent.

Many Italian producers of prescription eyewear - including the major players - import semi-finished frames from Asia, mainly from China, putting total Italian eyewear imports from Asia, mainly Far East Asia, at 68 percent of the total.