The Vietnam Leather and Footwear Association (VLFA) has unveiled plans to develop product quality and safety criteria to raise the industry's production standards.

The move aims to offer a basis for producers to deliver better quality products and create a level playing field between domestic and foreign players.

The VLFA General Secretary Phan Thi Thanh Xuan told Vietnam Investment Review newspaper that despite Vietnam's leather and footwear industry still being heavily reliant on imported materials, it did not have its own set of criteria to control the use of unsafe chemicals.

According to the association, the industry required 220,000 – 250,000 tonnes of leather each year, with domestic suppliers supplying about 100,000 tonnes.

Xuan said there were only a small group of testing centres in Vietnam dedicated to assessing material inputs used by leather and footwear producers.

"As a result, footwear firms have to test their materials and products themselves to meet importers' requirements," she said.

Nguyen Bich Thuy, a representative from the Thuong Dinh Footwear Ltd Co, said the company usually sent its samples overseas for testing before producing bulk orders.

If the testing results failed to satisfy the client's requirements, the company would change its materials, she said.

Another representative for Ladoda Production, Service and Trading Leather Products Company, said it spent 10,000 USD on testing substances in products each year.

Head of the Vietnam Leather and Footwear Research Institute, Nguyen Hai Trung, said the absence of a system for controlling the use of chemicals in leather products meant domestic producers were being held to a double standard.

Currently, leather and footwear products that were imported to Vietnam did not face such barriers, he said. He further explained that Vietnam's participation in major trade pacts that imposed zero percent tariffs on products, created even bigger challenges to domestic producers, including losing their market share at home.

Head of Science and Technology Department under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Nguyen Dinh Hiep said most Vietnamese leather and footwear firms were being outsourced to by foreign firms and were required to meet international standards.

A set of criteria imposed by Vietnam or technical barriers were needed to better control imported materials and products to the country, he emphasised.

Since 2007, the European Union has adopted the Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals to improve the protection of human health and the environment from risks posed by chemicals. The measure simultaneously enhanced the competitiveness of the EU's chemicals industry.

However, when developing such a set of criteria in Vietnam, Hiep said it was important to assess the impacts on local firms and their ability to adapt.

Leather and footwear account for Vietnam's leading export industries, with export turnover rising from more than 4.7 billion USD in 2008 to an expected 9.6 billion USD this year.-VNA