BRAZIL SHOE INDUSTRY MOUNTS EFFORT TO KEEP PRODUCT IN "GOOD ODOR'

BRAZIL SHOE INDUSTRY MOUNTS EFFORT TO KEEP PRODUCT IN "GOOD ODOR'

With Brazil's shoe exports booming and domestic sales recovering from a long, deep recession, the footwear industry's major worry here may be a bill passed by the Senate to protect this country's many abandoned street children.

Hopes of the footwear industry ride - er, walk - with a pair of noxious smelling lady's slippers presented recently to the Lower House in a tightly sealed container.Brazilian footwear exports through July totaled $1.15 billion, a 64.5 percent increase over the first seven months of 1992, according to Horst Volk, president of the Brazilian association of footwear industries (Abicalcados).

Most of the footwear goes to the United States, where Brazilian manufacturers currently are the peripheral beneficiaries of a Mexican reaction - and punitively high duty - against Chinese footwear imports.

Mr. Volk forecast total exports this year between $1.8 billion and $2 billion as compared with $1.4 billion foreign sales in 1992.

That is the outlook, that is, if legislators don't raise a stink, literally.

Besides the many legitimate footwear manufacturers, marginal customers for cobblers' glue in Brazil include scores of urban street waifs, who sniff its fumes as a cheap drug against the pangs of hunger and boredom.

In the past, legislators tried to stop the practice by forbidding sales to minors.

To no avail. The kids simply found go-betweens and wound up paying higher prices for their preferred vice.

Trying a different tack, a bill approved by the Senate last December would oblige manufacturers to add "substances of noxious odor" to their cobblers glue, making it unfit for sniffing. The bill is now pending before the Lower House.

Shoe manufacturers presented their countervailing argument to congressmen recently in the form of the aforementioned lady's shoes, brought to Congress in an appropriately airtight box by Julio Redeker, vice president of the Brazilian association of footwear exporters (Abaex).

Judging by legislators' pinched noses and anguished expressions when the box was opened, just a brief examination of the footwear was eloquent argument enough.

"We followed the recommendations of this crazy proposal, and there are the results. A smelly shoe - even before it's worn," said Mr. Redeker.

"If the Lower House approves this bill, too, no one will buy a Brazilian- made shoe," he said in a telephone interview from Abaex headquarters in Novo Hamburgo.

"Snakebite is treated with snake venom," he said of his olfactory lobbying. Representatives of the southernmost states, which host Brazil's footwear industry, are mounting an effort to see that the obnoxious proposal never reaches a final vote.

Meanwhile, the industry proposes to stop marketing cobblers glue in kid- sized containers, limiting it instead to industrial sizes of a gallon or more.

Further down the road, German-based chemical giant Bayer is working on a water-based substitute, which would do away with the intoxicating ethylene base of the current product.

"The industry is not blind to the social problem, but we cannot simply sideline the jobs of one million Brazilian workers who produce 510 million pairs of shoes a year, 25 percent of which are exported," said Mr. Redeker.