Italy's eyewear production, consisting mainly of sunglasses and frames, made a strong recovery in 2005 after three flat years, raising its revenues by 10.3 percent to €2,104.75 million, according to the final figures reported by ANFAO, the country's eyewear industry association, confirming its global primacy if China and Hong Kong are considered separately.

The association points out in fact that Italy represented 27.6 percent of world trade in frames and sunglasses, with a share of 27.6 percent, as its exports grew by 13 percent to €1,734.3 million, followed by China at €938 million and Hong Kong at €937 million, with market shares of 12.9 and 13.9 percent, respectively. Since 2004 the world's three leading eyewear producers have consolidated their positions in roughly equal proportions, contributing to a growth of 11 percent in international trade to last year's level of around €6 billion.

The growth of the Italian industry appears headed for another increase in 2006, as its production rose by 5.1 percent in January, with an 11.9 percent jump in the sunglass sector. On average, Italy exports about 40 million pairs of sunglasses and 30 million pairs of prescription frames annually, but its share of world trade in terms of volume cannot be assessed as some national statistics are based on the weight of the exported goods and others on the number of units. Italian products notoriously carry a higher average price than those made in China, which reserves a large portion of its production for consumption by its very large national population.

The final export figures for all the 12 months of 2005 also confirm the recovery of Italy's strong sunglass sector, which supplies nearly one-half of the value traded internationally. Italy has in fact a market share of 48.6 percent, compared with 17.6 percent for China, 12.9 percent for Hong Kong and 20.9 percent for the rest of the world. Italy's advance in the sunglass market increased in the past two years, considering that Italy had market shares of 45.6 percent in 2003 and 47.6 percent in 2004. China and Hong Kong, which stood at 17.1 percent and 11.2 percent in 2003, respectively, have gained ground, too. Instead the USA, the 4th largest supplier, lost ground, reducing its share to 6.6 percent, followed by France with 3.1 percent.

Italy's exports of sunglasses grew by 21.4 percent last year compared with 2004, topping the €1 billion mark, compared with China's €363 million and Hong Kong's €265 million. The 20 percent growth in exports was the major factor fuelling the growth in Italian production. Italy also ranks n 1 in the global trade in eyewear frames, with 27.5 percent of the market, although its exports of prescription frames grew by only 2.7 percent to €604 million.

Overall, 82 percent of Italy's eyewear sales, weighing over €2 billion, was generated by exports ? the figure was 80.5 percent in 2004 and 84.3 percent in 2002. The balance was marketed in the Italian market, where the industry's sales grew by only 3.7 percent to €857.41 million. Imports into Italy rose by 7.2 percent to €486.97 million. About one-half of Italy's exports go to the rest of Europe, up by 6.6 percent in 2005. America takes 32.8 percent, with 28.9 percent going to the USA, Italy's largest customer. Deliveries of sunglasses to the USA grew by 27 percent last year, and those of prescription eyewear went up by 9.8 percent. Some 13.2 percent of Italy's eyewear exports went to Asia, up by 19.5 percent.

In the past 10 years the revenues of the Italian eyewear industry have grown by 51.3 percent, though the number of jobs in the sector has fallen by 5.8 percent, mainly due to improvements in productivity fostered by the presence of large and medium-sized groups that represent 17 percent of the total production. Because of their big size and of their numerous retail operations abroad, they are also capable of competing well with Chinese producers, dictating relatively high prices for premium products. In the Belluno district, which generated 75.3 percent of the national turnover with €1,585 million, revenues have grown by 36.9 percent in the past 10 years, while the number of jobs in the industry have grown by barely 3 percent.

The small and medium-sized businesses in the district have been hardest hit in the past decade, but the situation is beginning to turn around. The number of temporary layoffs in 2005 were half those of the previous year, while the number of jobs remained practically stable, declining by just 1 percentage point. The first quarter of 2006 has brought the downward trend to a halt. Companies of all sizes, including the smaller business, are looking to recruit skilled workers. Creativity in the region is at an all-time high, according to a local galvanizer. Judging from the business climate at recent trade shows, Cirillo Marcolin, chairman of MIDO, predicts that world trade in eyewear will increase by about 10 percent this year.