Leather and footwear exports rose 13.8 percent in the first seven months to 2.75 billion USD, according to the Vietnam Leather and Footwear Association.

Nguyen Van Khanh, its general secretary, said the country remains the world's fourth largest footwear producer and exporter.

Vietnam turns out 800 million pairs of shoes of various kinds, 120 million bags, and 150 million square feet of tanned leather products a year and exports them mainly to the US, EU and Japan.

Exports to the US rose sharply in the first seven months to 700 million USD, accounting for 25 percent of the country's total exports.

The growth in exports to the US was a positive sign since the EU, Vietnam's key market, no longer offered preferential tariffs for Vietnamese shoe products under the GSP (Generalised System of Preferences), he said.

The EU is also set to extend anti-dumping duties on Vietnamese leather-capped shoes until 2011.

Tran Ngoc Quan, head of the EU Division at the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Europe Market Department, said the obstacles to exporting leather and footwear to the EU could still remain this year.

To boost exports in remaining months this year, Vietnamese exporters should focus on high-value contracts, the association said.

If the sector continues to maintain the current export growth rate, however, the year's target of 4.6 billion USD can be achieved, it said.

However, a shortage of labour has become the biggest problem for footwear companies and is affecting exports.

Large companies should consider building dormitories for workers to retain them, the association added./.