Glassmaking in turmoil

PORTUGAL’S FINE glass industry in Marinha Grande (north of Lisbon) is in crisis. The rising price of natural gas, essential in the glass production process, coupled with cheap imports from eastern Europe, Asia and the Far East, has sounded the death knell for many of the glass producing plants in the town, which have been turning out fine crystal for 260 years.

Since 1992, 14 glass producers in Portugal have shut down, representing a total loss of 1,610 jobs in the sector. Glassmaking, like porcelain production, is an age-old tradition which the Portuguese have long excelled at, and much of their produce is sold in the best stores in Europe, including Harrods and Harvey Nicholls in London’s Knightsbridge.

Although there are still 11 glassworks in the area, which turn over 50 million euros a year, providing 1,400 jobs, the industry is suffering. And, even though 90 per cent of the glass is exported to the EU, the US, Brazil and the Middle East, many quality Portuguese companies are losing out to glassworks in Spain, where gas used in the production is 35 per cent cheaper.