The negative economic cycle in some major markets, made worse by the recent terrorist and military events, has affected the Italian eyewear industry's exports this year. Frames have suffered badly, while the slowdown of the sunglass market has been softened by the fact that Luxottica has consolidated Ray-Ban's production into its own Italian manufacturing apparatus.

According to the latest projections made by the Italian industry association, Anfao, the year 2001 is closing with a modest overall 3.2 percent increase in eyewear exports to 1,394.43 million euros. Fortunately, a 9 percent decline in exports of frames to e619.7 million has been partly offset by a 15.9 percent in sunglasses to e774.7 million.

The slowdown is considerable. In 2000, the Ray-Ban effect had produced a 77.06 percent increase in Italian sunglass exports, and frame exports had still risen by 8.84 percent, contributing to an overall gain of 34.6 percent for the Italian industry. The negative signs were already there before Sept. 11. In the month of August, exports of frames were off 5.68 percent, while sunglasses were up 23.22 percent.

Export sales, of which 38 percent go to the USA, are a decisive factor in the Italian eyewear industry as they represent about three-quarters of its total revenues. On the other hand, the 4 major multinationals in the sector ? Luxottica, Safilo, De Rigo and Marcolin - all recorded sales increases of over 20 percent. Instead, the 1,400 other smaller producers lost 30-40 percent of their turnover. They will be forced to reduce production and to ask for government help.

The events of Sept. 11 coincided with the fall presentations of the new collections, affecting orders for deliveries in the first half of 2002. According to Anfao, the consequences will probably last until at least next August, with exports likely to recover in September, in line with the expected improvement of the world economy, thanks to orders taken in February and March, and then at Mido in Milan.

Anfao sounded the alarm about the difficult state of the Italian eyewear industry at a convention organized earlier this month in Venice by the local municipality. Nine winners of the Nobel prize for Economics were asked to speak about subjects such as globalization and the single European currency. One of them, the Canadian Robert Mundell, who had been invited by the members of Anfao, dwelled extensively on the benefits brought by the euro. He said it had helped to decrease interest rates from 15 to 5 percent in the past 10 years. He added that intra-European trade is expected to treble through the new single currency.