In 2005, the Italian ceramic tile industry maintained its dual leadership role in the United States in terms of imports and local production by Italian-owned companies inside the U.S.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce figures for 2005, the Italian ceramic tile industry has maintained its leadership position with respect to competitors in spite of a fall in total quantities. "The official US statistics confirm that Italy is the leading foreign supplier to the United States. Although our exports have fallen by around 4.5 million square meters, this is offset by an increase in average price of $1.25 per square meter," declared Alfonso Panzani, Chairman of Assopiastrelle, during the International Press Conference held at Coverings. Italian tile imports totalled a volume of 64 million square metres, 26.1 percent of total U.S. sales. Although 6.5 percent down from 2004, this figure is still 9 percentage points ahead of the second exporter country to the United States, now in Latin America. Imports in terms of value were even more significant at 806.7 million dollars (up 3.9 percent), with Italian tiles accounting for 44.8 percent of the entire value of imports. While the sharp increase in average price is largely a result of the strong euro against the dollar in recent months, it is also a tangible sign of the quality, innovation and status of Italian ceramic tiles amongst US consumers.
No less important is the second leadership position enjoyed by Italian ceramic tiles in the North American market, namely that of local production. As a result of the strategy of establishing a local manufacturing presence that was first pioneered in the early 1980s, about half of today's installed capacity is owned by Italian companies. This value is even more significant if we consider that substantial investments were made last year to rationalize the production capacity of many of these factories and that a number of major historic US ceramic tile producers have been acquired by Italian companies in recent months.
These two separate approaches underscore the strategic nature of the North American market for the Italian ceramic tile industry.