Italian tiles in the doldrums
In 2019, production and sales remained stagnant at 409 million sq.m. Non-European markets saw the biggest falls, while the domestic market made a slight recovery.
The Italian ceramic tile industry concluded 2019 without significant changes in production, sales and export volumes compared to 2018. According to preliminary figures published by Prometeia, the sector produced and sold 409 million square metres of tiles (compared to 410 million sq.m in 2018). Exports dropped by 2 million sq.m to 326 million sq.m (down 0.6% on 2018), while domestic sales rose by 1 million sq.m to 82 million sq.m (+1.2%).
Amongst the key markets, sales in Italy and Europe accounted for around two-thirds of the total and saw growth of a few percentage points, unlike exports outside the EU which in some cases experienced significant contractions. One example was the Middle East, where several countries have put up non-tariff barriers to ceramic imports.
Amidst essentially stagnant demand but higher production capacity due to the large-scale investments made in recent years, some companies chose to stop production for a few weeks at the end of the year to avoid overfilling their warehouses.
Introducing and commenting on the sector data, Confindustria Ceramica Chairman Giovanni Savorani pointed out that international trade in all sectors is being hit by the growing global trade tensions (particularly but not solely between the United States and China), which is generating uncertainty amongst consumers and professionals. “Recent studies show that the countries that have been worst affected by this situation are big exporters and those with a large public debt, both of which are conditions that apply to Italy,” he added.
Confindustria Ceramica and the companies it represents are particularly concerned about the competitiveness of the Italian production system in an increasingly competitive market context. Savorani believes that Italy’s competitiveness continues to be penalised by the higher labour and energy costs and inadequate road and port infrastructures compared to other competitor countries.
As for energy costs, Savorani voiced strong concern regarding the European Emissions Trading system, which in the absence of appropriate intervention during the review of the directive by the European Commission will effectively increase the competitive gap with respect to non-European production. “Over the next 10 years, the ETS directive will bring an estimated extra cost for the Italian ceramic industry of more than €30 million/year,” he explained. “These costs are a kind of tax on product factors but without taking account of the investments that have been made and the extremely high levels of efficiency that have been reached. Major technological advances capable of bringing further significant reductions in emissions are unlikely to be seen in the next few years.”
The Italian ceramic industry’s commitment to environmental sustainability was further demonstrated by the voluntary emissions reduction agreement signed on 7 December by Confindustria Ceramica and the 10 municipalities making up the ceramic district, the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia and the Emilia Romagna regional government. “This innovative agreement, the only one of its kind in Italy, establishes a general cap for the emissions of the district as a whole, while the individual companies already have much lower emission levels than those established by the European Union,” said Savorani. “It aims to improve the competitiveness of our companies through actions such as standardised authorisation procedures and reduction of the timeframe for issuing integrated environmental authorisations to 45 days.”
Along with major investments in technological innovation and sustainable development (2 billion euros over the last 5 years), Giovanni Savorani also pointed out that the Italian ceramic industry is working to improve its competitiveness in other ways. These include professional training (through agreements with schools and universities and the launch of the 2nd level ‘Ceramic business and technology’ Master’s course) and communication. Following its launch last year, the digital campaign entitled ‘The values of ceramics’ has received more than 12 million views thanks to the involvement of more than 60 Italian companies and foreign associations of producers, distributors and installers.