NEW YORK — As anyone who’s ever bought Prosciutto di Parma or balsamic vinegar from Modena knows, Italian manufacturers are sticklers when it comes to quality in manufactured products. The Italian Trade Commission is now trying to apply quality-control standards to service."Most of the time, when we speak of quality, we are referring to the quality of the merchandise," Luigi Troiani, a consultant with Confcommercio, the Italian General Confederation of Trade, Tourism and Services, said through an interpreter at a presentation by the ITC on Thursday at Manhattan’s 21 Club. "Now, our effort is to give standards of quality…for the passage of the product to the consumer and afterwards."The ITC’s new UNITER program is aimed at establishing standards of service that vendors of soft goods, food and services must meet, as an effort to encourage U.S. businesses to buy from Italy.Robert Luongo, deputy trade commissioner of the ITC in New York, noted that Italy ran a $14 billion trade surplus last year with the U.S., and while Italian imports of all products to the U.S. were down 6 percent in the first six months of 2002, he said the nation expects to record another strong surplus this year.Troiani said the goal of the UNITER program is to assure corporate buyers that they will get the help they need in meeting import procedures. The program is being tested by ANIBO, Italy’s National Association of Buying Offices, said Vasco Paladini, the group’s president."Buyers today don’t just look for the product that customers want," he said through an interpreter. "They also look for new products for the client."While he welcomed the effort to ensure good service, Peter Mangione, president of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, urged Italian manufacturers to establish scientific proof of the quality of their products, rather than sticking to personal, artisanal standards."Quality is a traditional source of Italian pride, but is also an area of dispute," he said. "Quality is not an option. It is not optional. If you don’t have quality, you don’t have a sale."Noting that Chinese shoe manufacturers —?who produce 80 percent of the footwear bought in the U.S. — have set up laboratories to rigorously maintain quality standards, he said Italian manufacturers must rise to that challenge."There is only one way that I know of to assure quality and that is by scientific testing," he said. "You must take a scientific, test-based approach to quality."

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