Calcados Azaleia, Brazil's leading women's shoe producer and one of the five biggest in the world, has acquired an 85 per cent stake in Czech company Moditalia Praha in a move that will enable it to expand in Eastern Europe.

Azaleia said it aims to become the leading footwear company in the Czech Republic by 2005, as the country moves to closer to joining the European Union. Moditalia has been renamed Azaleia Europe sro.

Other Brazilian footwear makers are also exploring strategies for international expansion. For example, synthetic shoe producer Grendene this month takes its Rider sandals to the Indian market for the first time.

70 per cent of Brazil's shoe exports currently go to the US, but the country is trying to reduce its dependence on this market.