European Commission officials are considering an unprecedented refund of anti-dumping duties to importers of Chinese and Vietnamese shoes, if an anticipated review of the tariffs concludes they were wrongfully imposed.

The Commission's ruling college is expected to authorise the review on Wednesday (1 October), which would extend the operation of the tariffs, currently due to expire next week (7 October).

Under anti-dumping procedures such a review has to be launched if strong evidence is presented claiming dumping would continue without such protective tariffs.

Confirming such a dossier had been submitted by the Italian shoemakers industry, Commission trade spokesman Peter Power said the review had to go ahead, even though a majority of countries in the EU Council of Ministers opposed it.

As a result, the Commission is considering an exceptional refund of the tariffs should the review conclude dumping had ceased to exist.

"It's something we would like to explore," he said. Normally such refunds are not allowed - but it would be considered "on an ad hoc basis".

Commission officials are also likely try to speed up the review so it finishes earlier than the usual 12-15 months.

Power said he hoped "couple of months could be shaved off this". The duties have to stay in place during a review.

A majority of 15 of the 27 European Union countries on 17 September voted against plans to extend the controversial anti-dumping duties on leather footwear imported from China and Vietnam.

The taxes of 16.5% on imports from China and 10% on imports from Vietnam have been in place since October 2006.

But the European Confederation of the Footwear Industry CEC and the Italian Footwear Manufacturers' Association ANCI have threatened to take legal action against the Commission if it tries to end the charges.

They claim the European footwear industry still suffers from dumped imports from China and Vietnam and has been unable to recover in the two years that anti-dumping duties have been in place.

By Keith Nuthall.