The European Commission is calling on all interested parties, including lobbying organisations such as the CEC - the European confederation of the shoe industry - and FESI, the European lobby for the sporting goods industry, to bring out new ideas for a universally acceptable compromise on the definition of sports shoes, which will be discussed at a conference in Oporto early this month.

The Commission published a formal document last June on a new standard definition of sports shoes, representing a compromise between the divergent positions of the Italian and German governments on the binding tariff information required from importers of these products. The customs standards applied by the two governments had created bureaucratic difficulties for vendors, importers, and customs officials.

The compromise proposed by the European Commission would exclude the more technical outdoor shoes, including hiking boots and sandals, from the sports shoe category.

The explanatory note, published in the Official Journal of the European Commission last June, says that footwear designed for a sporting activity should include: "tennis shoes, basketball shoes, gym shoes, training shoes and the like, with the exception of, for example, footwear worn mainly or exclusively for white water canoeing, walking, trekking, hiking, or mountain climbing." European producers of these items are happy with this measure, but the importers are not.

CEC did not comment on the issue, but ANCI, the Italian shoe manufacturers association, indicated that it was satisfied with the proposed changes. FESI has only accepted some aspects of the proposals. The lobby group is unhappy with the suggestion that independent test laboratories should intervene to resolve dubious cases of definition. Its footwear and apparel committee has attempted to come up with a counter proposal prior to the Oporto conference.

The Brussels-based World Customs Organisation, which is in charge of harmonising customs definitions on a global basis, is involved in the discussions. It seems, however, that it will take protracted debate before a European definition, in line with the older one being used in the USA, can be agreed.

About the CEC and FESI
CEC is the European confederation of the shoe industry and represents manufacturers of all types of shoes from all over Europe. FESI is the European lobby for the sporting goods industry, which represents importers as well as producers. Both organisations are based in Brussels.