Total sales of eyewear products made in Italy grew by 3.2 percent to €821 million in the 6-month period ended last June 30, leading the management of the country's eyewear industry association, ANFAO, to express cautious optimism about the recovery of the international market before the traditional fashion show that it organizes on the eve of the SILMO fair in Paris, with the financial support of the Italian government. After similar events organized in Moscow and New York, it plans to stage a fashion show for the first time in China next February, in connection with the China International Optics Fair in Shanghai.

Italy's exports of sunglasses rose by 5.5 percent worldwide in the first half of 2004, reaching €496 million, while those of frames increased by 0.2 percent. At 7.7 percent, the biggest growth took place in Europe, which represents about half of the industry's total exports. The French market was the driving force, with increases of 20.5 percent for ophthalmic frames and 12.6 percent for sunglasses. Italy has in fact become the largest supplier of eyewear products in France, taking up 40 percent of its total imports. Significant growth rates were also recorded in Greece, Portugal and Spain.

A certain stability was noted on the US market, which represents one-fourth of Italian exports, in spite of the weak dollar. Sales in that market grew by 10 percent for Italian sunglasses, recovering strongly after a 16 percent drop in the first half, but they declined by a similar rate for ophthalmic frames. Italian exports to Asia grew marginally, aside from a 35 percent increase in Hong Kong.

Italy imported 4.3 percent more eyewear during the 6-month period. About 60 percent of that came from Asia, recording a jump of 22 percent, while imports from the rest of Europe were down by 17.6 percent.

The Italian government will put pressure on the newly appointed European Commission to discuss its long-standing proposal of a regulation that would make it mandatory to put the ?made in? label on various types of products imported into the recently enlarged European Union, like the one that is required for those imported into the USA or Japan. While several governments are opposed to such a measure, the Italian one hopes to get it passed for eyeglasses, textiles, clothing, footwear and various accessories, plus ceramic tiles.