An Italian shoe is an expression of innovation, technology and design which has earned the country its world-famous reputation as the leading manufacturer of top-quality footwear, according to the Trade Commissioner in Hong Kong, Michele Scuotto. Consumers in the Far East spend more on a single pair of Italian shoes than anywhere else in the world, according to the findings of the 1996 MICAM Modacalzatura report. Last year, exports increased by 5.5 per cent to more than 447 million pairs worldwide. Hong Kong imported Italian footwear worth more than US$176 million, an increase of seven per cent over 1995, making Italy the second largest supplier after China. Keeping ahead of the field, Italian companies will once again boast the biggest national pavilion at the Asia-Pacific Leather Fair '97. There will be 186 shoe manufacturers and 27 leather goods firms showing their products on 2,500 square metres of space at the fourth and fifth levels of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. One of the main reasons for Italy's success in the footwear industry is the unique advantages offered by its country-wide network of regions specialising in different aspects of shoe manufacturing. It is the largest producer of footwear machinery, as well as being home to more than 200 tanneries and countless footwear-related service industries. There are more than 8,500 shoe manufacturers. 'Italy offers a complete industry that is flexible and unique. Italians refer to it as the shoe radio - whatever is happening, everyone gets to hear about it and is quick to come out with the latest trends,' Mr Scuotto said. Companies at the trade fair come from all the major manufacturing regions such as Marches, Tuscany, Veneto, Lombardy, Apulia, Campania and Emilia Romagna. Last year, the Italian Trade Commission set up its Asia Footwear Desk to facilitate a two-way exchange of information to link potential customers with Italian manufacturers. 'We are not only giving importance to top brand names. We want potential customers in Asia to understand all the possibilities offered by the industry and for Italian producers to understand the different needs of countries in the region.' Mr Scuotto said that China was poised to emerge as a fresh market for good-quality Italian shoes as the spending power of its population increased. He said Italy could serve niche markets for the growing demand for sports shoes and golf shoes. 'The most important thing to a consumer is that they like the shoes they see. 'The Italian sense for fashion and design is in the blood and cannot be repeated,' he said.