Italian shoemakers urge EU to tread carefully on sanctions

BRUSSELS - Bad relations between the EU and Moscow have helped cut exports of Italian shoes to Russia by around a fifth, the sector said in a letter to the bloc's foreign policy chief, urging consideration of economic effects before more sanctions are imposed.

The EU has imposed measures including economic sanctions in response to Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March and the months of unrest that have followed. In turn Russia has taken measures against imports, particularly food.

Footwear has not been specified by either side but Italy's exports have still been hit by Russian consumers becoming less keen on pricey imported goods.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has to mediate between nations that have pushed for more sanctions, and others, such as her native Italy, which have favoured a softer stance.

Cleto Sagripanti, head of Italian footwear industry association Assocalzaturifici, which groups brands such as Salvatore Ferragamo and Tod's, said the body appreciated geo-political issues but argued the EU could not ignore the impact the crisis is having on European businesses.

Italy's 6,000 shoemaking companies employ 80,000 and in many cases, the small, specialist firms are located in regions with few alternative sources of employment.

Russia was Italy's fifth-biggest footwear export market in 2013, after France, Germany, the United States and Switzerland, which re-exports to nations including Russia.

Exports in the first half of this year fell 17.5 per cent in volume and 21.4 per cent in value compared with the first half of 2013, when the total value of exports to Russia was 643 million euros (S$1.05 billion), according to the industry body.

In the letter dated Dec. 10, Sagripanti offered to share data with Mogherini and asked for a meeting to discuss how the EU can help address "this enormous challenge for our industry".

The EU External Action Service, headed by Mogherini, did not have any immediate comment.