The European Commission is trying to persuade EU member states to back plans to add import taxes to leather shoes from China and Vietnam - despite the fact that 14 EU countries rejected the same proposals earlier this month.

The measures, which would add 16.5% to the import price of shoes from China and 10% to those from Vietnam, have also been strongly attacked by many European-based branded shoemakers such as Ecco and Timberland who outsource production to Asia.

Retailers also argue the hefty increase in costs would hit customers and pile extra pressure on businesses already struggling to absorb inflation-busting increases in energy bills, rents, rates and wages.

The European Commission said in a statement today (30 August) that although the proposal was rejected by member states at "advisory" level they now need to cast a "legally binding vote."

Crucially, member states may be asked to explain the legal rationale for their votes - and those who reject the measures could in theory be challenged in court to legally defend their decision.

EU members now have until 6 October to decide whether to back the latest proposals. And unless a majority of member states vote in favour, shoes from China and Vietnam will be able to enter into the European Union free from anti-dumping duty.

Alisdair Gray, the British Retail Consortium's Brussels director, says: "EU countries must stand firm and make sure that message gets through when they vote in September.

"A 16.5% cost hike would have a serious impact on low income families and retailers already struggling with tight margins, but this is not just about shoe prices.

"This is about the image and future direction of the EU. Which does it believe in? Free trade and allowing consumers the full benefits of global markets, or protectionism and the vested interests of a small number of uncompetitive European producers?"

Horst Widmann, president of the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry (FESI), adds that most European governments "have understood that Europe should not sacrifice its competitiveness and the interest of consumers for the sake of shielding a handful of manufacturers from global competition."
 
Trade commissioner Peter Mandelson is trying to balance the interests of nations such as Spain, France and Italy which have thriving shoe industries and therefore back the measures, with others such as Sweden and the UK who argue they will mean price rises for consumers.

But Widmann argues: "The problems faced by the few European producers who are calling for duties are caused by their failure to move up the value added chain and adapt to new competitive conditions, and not by alleged state subsidies to Asian producers.
 
"The proposed anti-dumping duties, if adopted, will translate into higher prices for European consumers. Definitive measures are certainly not in the Community's interest."
 
In April the Commission added a 19.4% duty to the cost of leather shoes imported from China and 16.8% on those from Vietnam after ruling that they were being sold too cheaply. The duty was imposed for an initial period of six months.

A subsequent plan to introduce a quota system was rejected by a committee of the EU's member states. This would have allowed 140m pairs of shoes from China and 95m from Vietnam to be imported into the EU duty-free, with additional imports incurring duties of up to 29.5%.

The EU says the extra charges could add EUR1.40 (US$1.79) to the average retail price of Chinese shoes - including children's footwear - and could stay in place for up to five years. 'Special Technology Athletic Footwear' (STAF) is excluded from the anti-dumping measures.