Luís Onofre was re-elected for a second two-year term as President of the European Footwear Industry Confederation (CEC), the entity representing the European footwear industry, consisting of 21 thousand companies responsible for 278 thousand jobs. The entrepreneur and designer born in Oliveira de Azeméis, who is also President of the Portuguese Footwear, Components, Leather Goods Manufacturers’ Association, APICCAPS) was unanimously re-elected during the last General Assembly of the CEC, held on the 25th of June. Luís Onofre’s first term was marked by an unprecedented economic and health crisis: “These two years were the most difficult for our sector, but we have to look for further opportunities for European footwear to strengthen its status in international markets. Maintaining free and fair trade is our priority, namely a system based on free, fair and balanced trade”, he concluded. Over the past two years, the CEC has focused its efforts towards pleading for open and rules-based trade to European Union institutions, in the broader context of the new European Industrial Strategy that sets out instruments and complementary regulations to support the green and digital transitions of footwear companies. “COVID-19’s unprecedented impact on European industry has triggered a much-needed update of the European Industry Strategy. Aiming to facilitate the transition of the European industrial sectors to a greener and digital economy, the strategy also recognizes the importance of maintaining a strong industry in Europe to guarantee its autonomy”.
Upholding Free and Fair Trade
A system that relies on open trade based on rules and where global trade partners operate on a level-playing field is the best possible constellation for the European footwear industry to both flourish at home and grow internationally.
When it comes to open trade, the CEC closely worked with European decision-makers and advocates to push forward the EU-Mercosur Association Agreement and speed its ratification process. An important agreement for economic and geopolitical reasons alike, the Mercosur trade agreement is highly praised by European footwear companies and an excellent opportunity for the EU to promote its values and environmental standards while contribute to the sustainability of the economic model of Mercosur countries. Another strategic market for EU footwear is the US, and with the new US President, it is expected to soon restore the trans-Atlantic alliance. The CEC and their American counterparts are committed to actively partake in relaunching trade relations together with European and American public authorities.
CEC has also been actively involved in the upcoming revision of the EU Generalised Scheme of Preference (GSP) to ensure that the future Regulation includes the necessary safeguard measures to protect EU footwear companies and ensure export product diversification of the beneficiary countries in order they develop their economies.
Jumping with both feet into the green and digital economy
The unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on the European industry triggered a much-needed update of the European Industrial Strategy. Aiming to facilitate European industrial sectors’ transition to a greener and more digital economy, the strategy also recognizes the importance of maintaining a strong industrial fabric within Europe to secure its strategic autonomy. During CEC’s General Assembly, Ms. Valentina Superti, Director Ecosystems Textiles and Tourism in European Commission,’ DG GROW, made it clear that “every crisis is an accelerator of trends, and although digitalisation and sustainability were latent topics, they are now more important than ever and this will lead to changes in every company’s business model”.
Raising interest for the sector among young people
In 2019, 70% of EU companies reported being unable to find qualified workers hampered investments and further growth, and such a situation is the reality for many European footwear companies. Suffering from a lack of attractiveness due to antiquated prejudices and misconceptions, European footwear companies have difficulties in finding young recruits to replace ageing workers. During these past two years, the CEC has been part of multiple European projects (#InMyShoes, Erasmus+ Blueprint Skills4Smart TCLF Industries 2030) aiming to show young people what it is really like to work in a footwear company: good jobs, career progression opportunities, new digital and green production tools and processes.
In the next two years, CEC will continue under Luis Onofre’s presidency to advocate on behalf of European footwear companies to make sure that EU actions support them in adapting to and benefiting from the green and digital opportunities. It will make sure that their voices are heard so that the EU continues to be an open and reliable trade partner while setting clear and equitable rules for all players. CEC in collaboration with all regional and national footwear stakeholders will continue promoting the sector to a younger audience, while promoting investments in upskilling and reskilling the current and prospective workforce. As Luis Onofre stated, “support for innovation, a free but fair trade policy and European collaboration at all levels to further skills development are the most vital elements to guarantee the prosperity of European small-and medium-sized businesses today.