By Liz White, UT staffDublin, Ireland-Some 60 percent of the global output of casual footwear is made in China, which exported 6000 million pairs in 2003, worth $13000 million. "The US alone absorbs $5000-million-worth of China-made footwear each year," with other main export markets being the EU and Asia, says a recent report being sold by Irish information group Research and Markets. Products exported from the People's Republic include walking and comfort shoes (42%) sandals and clogs (32%) and casual boots (26%), according to the report, which adds that only around one-third of China footwear suppliers produce boots.Shoe uppers are made in leather, polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride, nylon mesh, microfibre and canvas, while soles come in ethylene vinyl acetate, phylon (an EVA derivative), thermoplastic elastomers, as well as polyurethane, PVC, Modal (a wood fibre) Texon (a cellulosic fibre), cork and rubber.Steady growth in the sector in China "will easily continue," with suppliers seeing 15 to 30 percent annual export growth, the report says.The EU is listed as a market with export growth potential by the majority of manufacturers, and suppliers have taken steps to meet EU restrictions on use of azo dyes and toxic glues, R&M comments.Capacity in China is also expanding: more than two-thirds of the 70 suppliers covered in this report plan to boost capacity, the market research group said.Rising material costs as well as increased plant expenditure, means that "nearly half of the companies interviewed plan to hike product prices in coming months to maintain profit margins." R&M reports. But, aware of rising competition from producers in India, Vietnam and Indonesia, footwear makers in China are keeping price increases to a minimum, the group adds.The largest producers have some 100 research and development specialists and design technicians and spend around $2 million on R&D each year, launching 1000 new designs annually.Chinese footwear firms are OEM suppliers, making shoes for Wal-Mart, Nautica, Nike, Converse, Diadora and Chiyoda, for example. But they are, more and more, designing in-house and hence releasing own brand shoes.R&M says the reports contains:* Profiles of 15 leading manufacturers based on personal factory visits and exhaustive interviews with senior managers; * Short profiles of 55 additional suppliers with core sourcing information such as production capacities, output ratios and export capabilities:* The results from our latest casual footwear supplier survey that summarize makers projections for the next 12 months:* A comprehensive industry overview outlining current and future trends: and* Analysis of how footwear suppliers are coping with rising raw-material costs and other increases in operating expenses, and the effect of these on product prices.For more information on China Sourcing Report: Casual Footwear visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c28783). "